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Paul Nairn is running out of time to get defending champion Habibi Inta to the Dominion at Addington in two weeks. So much so that unless he is able to be fast worked by this coming Tuesday, Nairn believes he will miss Cup week. Habibi Inta is out of Monday’s South Bay Trotters Cup at Kaikoura after a mystery hock problem with very poor timing. The outstanding trotter has swelling around his joints but not actual issues with the joints themselves but Nairn’s vet is suggesting he doesn’t fast work the big trotter until the swelling goes down. With Habibi Inta having only had one race this campaign he is quickly running out of work days to build his fitness for the Dominion on November 13. “We had his hocks treated recently and it is almost like he has had a reaction to that,” says Nairn. “The actual joints are fine but there is swelling or maybe even fluid around them and until that goes down I won’t be fast working him.” Last year’s win in the Dominion showed just how rugged the race can be as Habibi Inta distanced his rivals after sitting off a solid speed so Nairn knows he can’t go into the race at anything less than peak fitness. “I am still hopeful of getting there but he hasn’t been fast worked this week and unless he is back fast working by Tuesday I’d say we will struggle to get him to the Dominion.” Nairn says even if the Dominion is not an option Habibi Inta is unlikely to change plans and head to the NZ Free-For-All on NZ Cup Day.   by Michael Guerin

There were times when Bettor Twist didn’t look like she was going to be able to follow in her dear old mum’s hoof prints. There would have been no shame in that because her dam Twist And Twirl was a three-year-old superstar, winning the Sires’ Stakes Championship and the Northern Oaks, racing deep into the season to finish second in a Breeders Crown. Bred to Bettor's Delight she produced Bettor Twist and breeder, owner and syndicator Ken Breckon admits the early signs weren’t great. “As an early two-year-old she didn’t have much speed,” said Breckon. “But she was a lovely nature filly and tough. She just needed to get faster.” Bettor Twist has gone faster at every start and in the Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park on Friday she confirmed what her last few starts had suggested: she is the best three-year-old pacing filly in the country at the moment. She did it by coming from the second line to sit parked and surge clear at the top of the Alexandra Park straight to easily hold stablemate Darling Me and Shes No Lady, the two other contenders for the best of their age and sex so far. And she did it in 1:52.2, meaning considering her starting point and trip she has easily broken 1:52 in real terms. Her time is 1.1 seconds outside The Orange Agent’s national three-year-old fillies record but that was set at Ashburton at a Harness Jewels in June, a full seven months of maturing away from Bettor Twist. She also gave mother and daughter the most unusual of doubles: they have now both won the Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park as three-year-olds but of course Bettor Twist’s is actually the delayed two-year-old version. She might add the second part of that double in a few months. With such a congested age group programme Bettor Twist has a huge array of options ahead of her here and the way her improvement curve is heading she could have a stunning season. “It is very exciting because she is like her dam now, just so tough,” says Breckon. As thrilled as he was to have yet another group one winer bred at Breckon Farms he was also thrilled at the continued success of Breckon Farms’s fillies syndicates. “They have been more successful than we ever could have dreamed,” says Breckon. “And what makes that even more special is we have new owners in this syndicate, some of them have never raced horses before. “So having a filly as good as this is great but being able to share it with people who are new to owning is a real thrill. “So this is a special win on lots of levels.” While Bettor Twist was the highlight of a chilly night at Alexandra Park, the main trot produced a stirring contest between Kay Cee and Credit Master, who went head to head for almost the entire last lap of their mobile mile. Kay Cee fought back to win for trainer-driver Joshua Dickie, with Pretty Majestic storming home into third suggesting her form isn’t far away. The night’s tight-class pace went to Tommy Lincoln, who used his gate speed to lead and park Star Galleria, with the pair finishing like that.   Michael Guerin

Trainer Steven Reid is hoping the aggression of a rival can gift Shes No Lady a winning shot in the $120,000 Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championship at Alexandra Park tonight. Shes No Lady has a habit of being in the right place at the right time, winning the juvenile filly of the year title last season because she won the only major fillies race staged before Covid hit. She was also in the right place last week when she was able to lead and outsprint many of the fillies she meets tonight, including Bettor Twist, in the final heat of this series. But she also has the motor to make the most of good fortune, with driver Zac Butcher suggesting to Reid after last Friday’s win he has now a very good filly on his hands. What does worry Reid is barrier one on the second line, which could led to a perfect trail or being pushed back. That is where Reid hopes aggressive driver Andre Poutama inadvertently helps. Poutama trains and drives Ideal Sports Girl who has drawn the ace, meaning She No Lady follows her out from the mile start point. Last week Ideal Sports Girl showed great speed before Shes No Lady wrested that back off her and Poutama is a driver rarely scared to roll the dice. “Andre knows how to rate them in front and I am sure his filly has the speed to lead,” explains Reid. “So then our fate might be in his hands a little. If he stays in front and runs a long then I think our filly has a real chance. “But if he chooses to take a trail, which of course he has every right to do, then we might be giving some good horses a start from three back.” Those good horses Reid refers to are all from the Purdon/Rasmussen stable with Darling Me, Bettor Twist and What’s Your Secret all impressive here last Friday. The All Stars rate Bettor Twist their tougher filly but Darling Me the more brilliant at this stage and if the latter can run to the front early from barrier seven then she will probably win on a track where her mother Adore Me starred so often. But if the front liners burn too hard early then the race will set up for Bettor Twist and/or Shes No Lady. Reid’s other big chance tonight in Star Galleria also faces what looks a bad draw in the main pace on all mile night but it should prove irrelevant. The former Auckland Cup placegetter only faces five rivals in race nine and should be able to cross them at the start because he is so quick off the gate. From there he should win. “Toddy (Mitchell) is back driving him because I tore my hamstring and I won’t give him exact instructions but I’d expect him to be able to cross if he wants to.” Star Galleria is likely having his last start in New Zealand tonight as he is booked to fly to Sydney in 10 days to join the all-conquering Craig Cross stable, where the mainly mobile mile racing should suit him. While mile racing at Alexandra Park, with its short run to the first bend, would seem to set up for those drawn well that hasn’t been the case at the all-mile nights staged over the last 18 months, with horses able to overcome all sorts of draws. That could also be the case in the open trot where Credit Master has drawn the outside of the front line but looked very happy bolting in here last week on a track that used to trip him up. — Courtesy of NZ Herald   by Michael Guerin

Even the northerners who didn’t shine at Ashburton on Monday are still all go for Cup week at Addington. While Copy That and American Dealer flew the northern flag with pride, there was a couple of speed bumps for established northern stars Temporale and Mach Shard, who were both unplaced. But Temporale is still on target for Cup week even after a disappointing Flying Mile. The former Rowe Cup winner raced well below his best when sixth on Monday even though that was still good enough for a 1:55.7 time. The best version of Temporale, the one who pushed Bolt For Brilliance close three starts ago, would have stayed a lot closer to winner Majestic Man after sitting on his back in the trail. But Temporale struggled on the bends, particularly the last one when he lost Majestic Man’s back and then one-batted in the straight. “We were disappointed in him,” admitted co-trainer Michelle Wallis. “He wasn’t happy on the bends and really he should be better than that as he has done so much racing left-handed now and was good in Australia. “So we took a blood off him and will add a pole for his next start.” Wallis will resist the temptation to take Temporale, who is staying with David and Catherine Butt, to the Cup trials at Addington next week. “It is straight into the Free-For-All and then at this stage on to the Dominion.” Another horse who didn’t race up to his best on Monday was Mach Shard, who finished second last in the Flying Stakes. “I would have liked to see him hold the back of Spankem,” said co-trainer Barry Purdon. “So I was disappointed in the run but he isn’t the first horse I have had go to Ashburton and go like that,” says Purdon. “It can shock some of them because those leaders never come back to them so I am willing to forgive him. “So he will go to the Cup trial now and on to the Cup.” Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan will bring On The Cards and Bad To The Bone to Kaikoura on Monday, with On The Cards also likely heading to the Cup although as this stage he sits one spot outside the final 15 guaranteed a start.   By Michael Guerin

Just metres into the Sires’ Stakes Trot Championships on Friday driver Tony Herlihy looked down and knew he was in trouble. The tyre on the inside sulky wheel behind his exceptional trotter Bolt For Brilliance was going flat. “I couldn’t believe, it started straight after the start and I thought, well this is about the only way he could get beat,” lamented Herlihy. But 2000m later concern turned into joyous disbelief as Bolt For Brilliance was still able to wear down a truly talented rival in Cracker Hill, trotting his last 800m in 54.6 for one of the more remarkable trotting wins seen at The Park in recent years. That Bolt For Brilliance could trot that sort of time to win proves he is a top class horse who should win an open class group one. But the fact he could do with the inner tube coming out of the tire and then seizing up the wheels, more seriously from the 800m mark, was the performance of a special horse. “I don’t think I have ever had that happen and still win before,” said Herlihy, our most successful ever driver. “Nothing happened to him at the start, it just started going down and I thought we were in trouble. “We were a bit lucky that it didn’t really come off the rim and wedge into the sulky frame until the 800m but when they are trotting that sort of time it is incredible to think he could still win.” It simply confirmed what two recent national records have suggested, that Bolt For Brilliance is not only the best of this four-year-old crop but potentially one day the best trotter in Australasia. He will now go for a spell, missing Cup week, and be aimed at the National Trot at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve. He was the King of the Park on a night when the young fillies provided the other highlights. Shes No Lady won the final heat of the delayed juvenile fillies Sires’ Stakes, using her gate speed to lead and hold a brave Bettor Twist at bay. “I know the draw helped but Zac (Butcher, driver) came back and said she felt like a good horse tonight,” said co-trainer Steven Reid. “And that gives us confidence heading into the final and what could be a long season ahead for these fillies.” Darling Me was allowed to bypass the heat to race in a grade race and she was brilliant pacing her last 400m in 26.5 seconds to beat former stablemate Nevada. “They are very different type of fillies,” said trainer Mark Purdon. “Bettor Twist might be tougher and Darling Me have more high speed.” Later in the night South Coast Arden overcame a tricky trip to stamp himself as an open class horse by downing Star Galleria and On The Cards in the 2200m mobile. He was crossed out of the gate, not because of lack of gate speed but because he got too keen, forcing Brent Mangos to take hold of him. That saw him settle three back on the inner and there was some hairy moments for those who backed him into favouritism but he muscled his way into the clear at the 400m and was simply too good for the more established stars. Mangos had toyed with the idea of making a late payment to get South Coast Arden into the New Zealand Cup but with the four-year-old only really looking up to this grade in the last two weeks the final late payment is now prohibitive. “So he will probably stay up here where he is racing so well,” said Mangos.   by Michael Guerin

The second of pacing’s glamour girls is out of the New Zealand Trotting Cup, raising the very real possibility there may be no mares in the great race this season. Trainer Barry Purdon has pulled multiple group one winner Belle Of Montana out of the $540,000 Cup at Addington three weeks today and will instead aim her at mares races. “I have actually given her a week off and will set her for the mares races at Alexandra Park in December,” said Purdon. “With the the good mares races she has coming up over the summer I decided she doesn’t need to be going down the NZ Cup path. “I takes a very good mare to win a race like that and she has plenty of good group one options remaining where she doesn’t have take on the boys over 3200m.” Belle Of Montana’s arch rival Princess Tiffany was pulled out of the Cup last month and has since headed to Victoria where she was stunning winning a major mare’s race on Saturday night, now finding herself favourite to win Melton’s Triple Crown. That leaves just one mare in New Zealand Cup reckoning, the much-improved Wild Excuse, who after her third in the Methven Cup last week sits 17th in the rankings. With doubts over a couple of those ranked above her she may make the final 15. One horse guaranteed to be in the race should his connections want is Ashley Locaz, who returned from an Australian campaign yesterday to bolster the All Stars numbers for the Cup. Alexandra Park hosts the next Cup lead-up this Friday night with the 2200m mobile there featuring On The Cards, who has snuck into the Cup field for now with Belle Of Montana’s withdrawal Two of the north’s leading Cup hopes will be missing though with both Copy That and Mach Shard heading to the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on Monday to take on Self Assured and Spankem. The Alexandra Park meeting is highlighted by the return clash of this exceptional four-year-old trotting crop, with Bolt For Brilliance trying to add the Sires’ Stakes to his Sales Series win from two starts ago but has again drawn outside key rival Cracker Hill.   by Michael Guerin

A month ago owner Danny Zavitsanos could have expected to two genuine open class horses racing on New Zealand Cup day. Instead they will both be living in Victoria. The high energy Zavitsanos provided one of the great moments of recent Cup Days with his celebrations after his pacer Cruz Bromac won the Cup last year and he wanted to bring the defending champion back. But he will instead stay in Victoria after a luckless sixth in the Victoria Cup last week and he will soon be joined by Zavitsanos’s elite trotter Enhance Your Calm. The five-year-old is heading to Victoria more than likely on a one-way ticket after struggling to replicate his age group form in open class this season. “He still has the ability but it is a hard grade over here at the moment,” says trainer Mark Purdon. “So I think he is better placed for Danny in Victoria and it might help him get his confidence back.” Enhance Your Calm isn’t the only talented Canterbury horse off to Australia as impressive spring campaigner Minstrel is heading to Perth. He will join the Greg and Skye Bond stable after a half share was purchased by their clients, with his New Zealand owners out of the David and Catherine Butt stable, including the Butts themselves stay involved. “I think he will do a great job over there,” says regular driver Bob Butt. “He can race for about A$400,000 on four-year-old races alone so it is a good destination for him.” Others jumping on planes to Australia include Mexicana, who will campaign in the Redwood and two-year-old trotting fillies Breeders Crown for new trainer Josh Dickie, with Anthony Butt a possible driver and caretaker trainer. And high class intermediate grade pacer Lawrence is another to be exported.   By Michael Guerin

Michael Guerin features in this week's In The Gig to talk all things NZ Harness Racing.   HRNZ

Close enough is not good enough for Steven Reid so Star Galleria is out of the IRT New Zealand Cup. Reid has decided his stable star will not head south even though he was okay on the clock running sixth in the Holmes D G at Alexandra Park last Friday. Starting off a 30m handicap, Star Galleria broke 3:20 for the 2700m standing start but while that is good enough to be in a New Zealand Cup, Reid says it is not good enough to be competitive in one. “I don’t think he can go down there and beat horses like Self Assured and Spankem, or Copy That who beat him last week,” admits Reid. “The other owners weren’t keen to go after his run last week and to be honest I didn’t try too hard to talk them into it. “His times have been really good, as they have to be in his grade, but not good enough to win a Cup. “So I think we will stay up here and he can have plenty of racing over the summer he is eligible for and ultimately I’d like to see him head to Sydney for a campaign.” Reid will also be keeping his other leading lights closer to home as Mr Fantastic, who was aptly-named beating the older horses at Alexandra Park last Friday, is not eligible for the Sires’ Stakes so won’t be at Addington. “He will have one more start then a week in the paddock and get ready for Christmas.” And two-year-old filly of the year Shes No Lady has the good fillies races at Alexandra Park over coming months. “She got back on the inside last week but hit the line well,” said Reid.   by Michael Guerin

Even The Iceman gets excited talking about Bolt For Brilliance now. Which is no small feat as Tony Herlihy has driven so many great horses in his record-setting career that it takes a lot these days for him to put his stamp on approval on one. Bolt For Brilliance gets that stamp. The four-year-old trotter added the national 2200m mobile record to the standing start record he set two weeks earlier with a dazzling win in the $85,000 PGG Wrightson Sales Series Trot at Alexandra Park on Friday, the race delayed from the autumn. Bolt For Brilliance played the stalker as first Cracker Hill and then Ultimate Stride led and kept the foot down but when the northern favourite moved up to challenge he didn’t get things all his own way. When Herlihy, after being patient early, did finally launch Brad Williamson came off the trail to keep him three wide from the 600m, but the favourite never flinched and hit the lead at the top of the straight before holding out the very brave Cracker Hill. The winner became the first trotter to break 2:40 for 2200m in New Zealand, his 2:39.6 clipping 0.8 of a second off the old mark set by Paramount King in an Inter Dominion heat last November. “I must admit I never thought I’d see the day they broke 2:40 for trotters here,” said Herlihy. “And he really did it easily, he almost shut off when he got to the front. “He has all the attributes of a really good horse and would be right up there with the best young trotters I have driven. “He has speed and stamina and his manners are really good now, he relaxed beautifully out there three wide tonight.” Herlihy has mulled over a series of ideas and even thought of the Breeders Crown in Australia, for which Bolt For Brilliance would revert to being a three-year-old. But with the restrictions around Covid and another good race at Alexandra Park in two weeks he is going to have an easier time next month, with the Cup carnival definitely out. “He has gone two big 2200m races in a row in very fast times so I think I’ll ease up on him after the Sires’ Stakes and he can look at stepping into open class at the Christmas meeting.” Further down the track Herlihy will target the Rowe Cup, a race he won with Temporale as a four-year-old four years ago and as good as Temporale is, you already get the feeling Bolt For Brilliance is going to be better. He has the look of a very, very good horse who is still improving, with gate speed one weapon he will need to add to his arsenal to be the complete package. But he already looks an outstanding stayer and is he stays sound he could develop into something special. If he does Herlihy will have only one regret with the $30,000 yearling who was bred by Standardbred Breeders boss Brad Reid. “It is a real shame one of his owners Stan Mathews isn’t here to see him win these races. “He passed away about a month ago and was a hell of a good fella so that is the sad part of tonight’s win.” While beaten Brad Williamson was thrilled with Cracker Hill and says he will be even more competitive with Bolt For Brilliance left-handed at this stage, not that they will be expecting to see each other under those circumstances for a while.   by Michael Guerin

Rather than be worried about the tougher task Cracker Hill faces at Alexandra Park this Friday young trainer Brad Williamson says he is excited by it. Williamson and his exciting machine take on just four rivals in the $85,000 PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales Trot on Friday night but it is still one of the most anticipated races of the season so far. Not only has Cracker Hill looked open class material but so have all of his rivals, particularly Bolt For Brilliance and Ultimate Stride, trained by Williamson’s father Phil. And Cracker Hill has been potentially been the biggest loser out of the Sales Series Trot being moved because of Covid. “Had this race been run back when it was supposed to be I think it would have been a bit easier,” laughs Brad. “Ultimate Stride wouldn’t have been ready for it and back then I think my horse was going better than Bolt For Brilliance back in April/May. “But I think it is great for racing and for trotting to see five good horses but especially three that are already proven in open class.” Williamson has been looking after Ultimate Stride for his father alongside Cracker Hill in the north where they are stabled with Josh Dickie, who will catch driver Ultimate Stride this Friday. “We took them both to the workouts at Pukekohe last Friday and while we only gave them a quiet run they were both good and finished alongside each other. “They both handled right handy ok and I think it won’t bother them this week.” Williamson is confident Cracker Hill will have the gate speed to cross to the lead early and says that is crucial because being his first time right-handed he wants him on the marker pegs. “That will be a big help and I won’t be scared to stay in front if we get there. “I have huge respect for all the others but if we are in front and they come and beat us, so be it.” The race will be a hard one for bookies to line up as Cracker Hill would have been favourite six weeks ago but Bolt For Brilliance has been outstanding lately. The question will be whether he has any gate speed and if not whether he can come from behind the southerners. Friday’s meeting also hosts the Holmes D G, with the likes of Copy That and Mach Shard and will be the first Alexandra Park meeting in two months to have the crowds back on track. With Auckland moving to Level 1 on Thursday racing effectively has no restrictions so owners and the public can attend all meetings of all codes. Racing officials and the public will be hoping that continues for a long, long time. Like forever.   Michael Guerin

Don’t be put off by Belle Of Montana’s chances of contesting the IRT New Zealand Cup just because she isn’t heading to Alexandra Park this Friday. Because champion trainer Barry Purdon says the glamour mare is still on target for Addington even though she will bypass the Holmes D G this week. Purdon elected to leave the five-year-old mare out of the 2700m standing start feature on Friday even though she is thriving. “I just don’t think she needs a gut buster off a 30m handicap,” says Purdon. “I could be a really hard race and she is going to wait for the mobile here on October 23. “After that she will likely go to the Cup trial at Addington but at this stage the Cup is still definitely the aim.” Belle Of Montana was a close up third behind stablemate Mach Shard in the Spring Cup 10 days ago but that was a 2200m free-for-all as opposed to this week’s tougher trip. “She is not a dour staying mare like Blossom Lady or even an Adore Me so I don’t think she needs to be lining up in every race. “But the Cup is the aim where she can be driven for speed and she has the right driver for that.” Mach Shard and On The Cards will contest the Holmes D G and Purdon says they have both come on well since the Spring Cup but after this week Mach Shard may sneak south. “Originally I was going to keep them all up here to race before the Cup but now I think Mach Shard will go to Ashburton for the Flying Stakes. “I think he is a horse who is best kept to standing start races before the Cup and the lead-up races here (at Alexandra Park) is a mobile. “So he will likely head south earlier while Belle Of Montana and On The Cards can stay here.” While Belle Of Montana is missing from this Friday’s race it still has not only Purdon’s other pair but Copy That, Star Galleria and three from the Telfer barn so as well as impressive last start winner South Coast Arden. Purdon is also aiming three-year-old General Montana at the next Sires’ Stakes series and he will contest a northern heat on October 23 to try and earn his ticket to Addington for the Cup Day group one.   Michael Guerin

Charlie Hunter and his old mate Lemond may have both been in the wars but only one of them is retiring. And as you could probably guess, it will be the horse not the man. Hunter has called time on the career of his Anzac Cup-winning trotter after trying everything to get him back to his best. The now eight-year-old winner of 15 races recently returned south from a stint with Paul Nairn, who told Hunter there was something niggling the horse he couldn’t quite put his finger on. After regular trainer Ross Paynter tried again with Lemond he suggested the son of Love You joined Andrew and Lyn Neal to see if treadmill work would ease the stress on his joints but again he struggled. “I went out to watch him work two or three times and decided he had had enough,” says Hunter. “He is on such a tough mark if he wants to race it is either in open class or off long marks at Alexandra Park and I didn’t want to do that to him. “I’d hate to see him break down so we have retired him nice and sound and a young fella who works for Ross is breaking him into saddle and we are going to find him a good home. “So if anybody out there wants a lovely horse they will look after we would love to hear from them.” While he won over $300,000 Lemond could have been far more successful had it not been for those issues that dogged him, which often looking like poor manners when in fact it the niggles were stopping him showing his full potential. He won an Anzac Cup, finished second in another and was third in a Dominion and fourth in a Rowe Cup after sitting parked. He also set two national records, for 2200m stand and the all-comers 1700m mobile record he still holds, beating the old mark set by another of Hunter’s stars in Sovereignty. “The night he set that 1700m record he sat parked the whole way and rated 1:55 something for 1700m so he was a good horse,” says Hunter. The 86-year-old legend of harness racing has himself had his battles lately. Hunter was diagnosed with bowel cancer two years ago and had that successfully treated before having a melanoma removed from his head this year and during those treatments there was concerns about some lymph nodes in his chest. “I was lucky to have a couple of wonderful doctors work on me and last week I had a procedure where they use large needles to take samples from those lymph nodes and test them for cancerous cells,” explains Hunter. “When you have a test like that you look at your wife, and your family, and wonder what happens next. “But we have got the results back and they told us they are not cancerous but still need some treatment. “So it has been an interesting time all right, but you know what, you just take it all in and keep going.” So with no horses in work and a few health issues, is Hunter taking time off from the stables in the mornings? “Oh no, I’ll still go to the stables in the morning when I can. It is just around morning tea time at the moment, not quite as early.”   by Michael Guerin

For the third time in just a few days one of the country’s pacing elite has been surprisingly scratched from a major race but in the case of Princess Tiffany there is nothing to worry about. And punters can feel just as relaxed about New Zealand Cup big guns Self Assured and Spankem after they started the race-missing trend. Princess Tiffany was in the field to take on Copy That and the northern stars in the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on Friday night but a longer than expected float trip north will see her miss the race. “She took a day longer to get up there than we hoped and she missed some work,” said trainer Mark Purdon. “She is totally fine but you can’t go into those sort of races after missing a hoppled run so I’d rather be cautious.” The start was to have been Princess Tiffany’s last in New Zealand for a while as she flies out to Victoria next week to be aimed at the mares Triple Crown there culminating in the Queen of the Pacific at Melton. Stablemate Another Masterpiece will be on the same plane to Victoria next week but he will start in the Spring Cup on Friday, a race which is shaping as the toughest test of Copy That’s season so far. The four-year-old has been spectacular this campaign and is now the $2.50 favourite for the New Zealand Cup and while he has beaten most of those be meets this Friday all season he has drawn barrier nine this week, coming into the outside of the front line. That means possibly giving many of the open class stars he has been getting starts from an advantage which, along with the possibility of traffic concerns, means the 2200m standing start may be anything but the walk in the park Copy That’s form would suggest. His place at the head of the New Zealand Cup market comes not only because of his supersonic form but after setbacks to long-time Cup favourite Self Assured and to a lesser extent last season’s runner-up Spankem. Both were supposed to start in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday yet missed the race after having sore hooves from working on a track which has got unseasonably hard at the All Stars’s property. That comes on top of Self Assured galloping so badly at his last start he tailed off and has been put on the unruly, which means he will in all likelihood be giving Copy That, and everybody else, a start in the $540,000 Cup at Addington on November 10. Future punters are a jittery bunch and the fact Self Assured and Spankem were scratched will have tongues wagging as there is nothing punters like more than a good rumour. But any long-term concerns about the pair should be allayed by the fact they are both in at the Rangiora trials today. “They have had some farrier work done and are good to go so they can trial here and then race at Addington next week,” says Purdon. “So this won’t affect their NZ Cup build-up at all, not this far out from the race.” Friday night’s Alex Park meeting also features the richest New Zealand harness race since Covid bullied its way into our lives, with the $200,000 Harness Million, the first running of New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred’s new sales final. While hot favourite Krug had his coloured lowered by American Dealer in the Sires’ Stakes Final last Friday he will still be be red hot to win this week’s 2200m return match after drawing the ace, with American Dealer on the second line and the horse probably rated the only other winning chance It’s All About Faith drawn barrier five. The meeting also see exciting four-year-old trotter Bolt For Brilliance taking on former stablemate Temporale in the main trot in the greatest test of his career so far after being quite stunning winning last Friday.   by Michael Guerin

New Zealand Cup favourite Copy That faces another new challenge on his road to the great race at Alexandra Park this Friday. The four-year-old finds himself in the almost unfathomable position as $2.50 favourite for the NZ Cup after entries closed last week and then things started to get bumpy for Self Assured. The long-time NZ Cup favourite and his stablemate Spankem both missed the Hannon Memorial on Sunday with hoof issues caused by a hard training track and one thing punters don’t like is uncertainty. But TAB bookie Matt Peden says that is not only one reasons Self Assured has been replaced as the New Zealand Cup favourite. “Once Self Assured was put on the unruly we couldn’t really ask punters to take the same odds for the Cup as when he was starting off the front,” says Peden. “So we have that, the fact he has been missing away and then missing a race in the Hannon, those things all pushed him out a bit more.” So after getting as short as $1.90, Self Assured is $2.70 for those who think his manners will improve and the unruly will assist rather than harm him. Peden says everything about Copy That has gone the other way, with great performances and good manners and the son of American Ideal who was $26 in the opening futures market could shorten even more should be continue on his winning way on Friday. But to do so he is going to have to overcome starting from one on the second line over the 2200m, effectively giving away a start to the north’s best pacers. He started off the inside draw from a 10m handicap to win in a similar field two starts ago but on that occasion four of his open class rivals were off 20m. This time he is giving most of them a start. The northerners will be joined by Princess Tiffany and Another Masterpiece, who are stopping over in Auckland as they head to Victoria. So while it is hard to see this week being an easy kill for Copy That if he is good enough to keep winning his $2.50 could shorten up even more. There hasn’t been great money for many of the NZ Cup favourite, with Spankem backed early at $7 and now out to $9 but there was specking for southerners like U May Cullect and Robyns Playboy. Peden says the market for the Dominion, which also became a little clearer when entries closed last week, took its biggest turn when Sundees Son smashed his rivals last start. “Before then we had a whole clump of horses around that $5.50 to $7 mark but that was the performance that shifted the market for us. “There haven’t been a lot plated at longer odds there yet.” Peden says the TAB book has been going “extremely well” and puts that down to a hard-working four-man team of price assessors as well as the great job the industry has done in making workout and trials videos accessible to everybody, including the bookies. “That has made it very hard to keep good workouts and trials secret but we are lucky to have a really strong team who love what they do.”   Michael Guerin

While punters might have struggled to believe American Dealer beat both Krug and It’s All About Faith in the first group one of the season at Alexandra Park last night, the really unbelievable story of the race was the driver. Because quite incredibly American Dealer’s win in the $140,000 Sires’ Stakes Final was David Butcher’s first group one driving success in New Zealand in nine years. Let that sink in. Butcher, one of the greats of the sulky, a member of the elite 2000 win club and on anybody’s list for being in top five reinspeople in the country, hadn’t won a group one here since Cowgirls N Indians in the Harness Jewels in June 2011. He had won one in the meantime in Australia, reigning King Of Swing to win a Breeders Crown in 2017 for American Dealer’s trainer Ray Green, who deserves most of the credit for Friday’s win. But to think Butcher hasn’t been in the group one winners circle in this country in almost a decade is truly remarkable. Butcher didn’t actually know that exact stat when reflecting after the race, but he knew it had been a while. “I reckon the last time I was driving group one winners back here was when Geoffrey (Small, trainer) was flying,” said Butcher. “So it is nice to get this one and behind a horse who tries so hard. He is a really good little professional,” says Butcher. That fact it had been so long between drinks for Butcher shows just how hard winning group ones is in New Zealand these days, with a reduced number of dominant stables, while Butcher has also had to battle back from a couple of serious injuries. “The body is good now, I am just getting old,” he laughs. His courage under fire early helped win the 1700m event as many would have been tempted to hand the lead to hot favourite Krug, especially when It’s All About Faith came charging mid race and the pressure really went on. But Butcher suits driving for Green because the Lincolns Farms team are never scared to be aggressive and roll the dice and this time it worked. Recently sold to US owners Marc Hanover and Gordon Banks, American Dealer has just kept improving and after this week’s Harness Millions will chase a unique Sires’ Stakes double inside two months by contesting the three-year-old series against basically the same horses. “I am very proud of him,” says Green. “He is a real little racehorse and he has a big season ahead of him.” While the draw may have won American Dealer the race his improvement curve and courage still suggest he is a Derby horse but whether he ever makes it to Australia this season will be interesting with Covid restrictions making hit and run missions on the Derbys there so much less palatable. While disappointed at being beaten driver Blair Orange was proud of Krug, who had to work hard enough early and then came three wide that he probably lost a winning advantage but he still had his chance to beat the leader. Its All About Faith was brave from the second line and can win the Millions with a draw to lead while the big improver in the race was B D Joe, who showed good gate speed to trail and stuck on well for fourth. Later in the night Bolt For Brilliance sent out out a reminder to southern stars Cracker Hill and Ultimate Stride that he will take a power of beating in next month’s delayed three-year-old trots at Alexandra Park. He recovered from getting into a horror spot with a lap to go to win the main trot with a 56.4 second last 800m three and four wide on the track, setting up some stunning age group races for the trotters next month. And Brent Mangos pulled off the training performance of the night in The Box Seat Returns Pace when South Coast Arden led throughout to beat Auckland Cup placegetter Triple Eight in the winner’s first start since March. He looks a bigger and stronger horse than last campaign and an open class horse in the making.   Michael Guerin

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