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Don’t bother asking Mark Purdon why group one stars Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke flopped so badly at the start of their Breeders Crown campaigns.  Because the champion trainer admits he doesn’t know. And he will be as interested as anybody to see how they bounce back in the semi-finals of the rich Victorian series at Bendigo on Saturday. Both Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke were were beaten as short-priced favourites in their heats of the Breeders Crown in Victoria late last week, Princess Tiffany unable show any acceleration as a $1.04 chance after having the perfect trip.  “She should have won by three or four lengths so she was very disappointing,” says Purdon.  “Her work before the race had been really good and her blood report since doesn’t show any problems.  “So we have no excuses. The only thing we can put it down to is the very wet track.  “But she will need to go better this week.”  Princess Tiffany, who has won three Oaks and is the defending Breeders Crown champion, has drawn the second line in a very strong semi final and while she has the luxury of only needing to finish in the first half of the field to make the final, that hardly helps punters.  Both horses will again be driven by Luke McCarthy, with Purdon staying home then going across to train the pair for their finals next week. Jesse Duke only battled to the line when well-beaten fourth in his heat last Friday and has draw the outside of the front line in his semi final on Saturday night which contains all three of last week’s heat winners. “He was disappointing too and didn’t have the wet track as an excuse so we went to see better from him this week too.”
The other Kiwi pacers in the ABC have had mixed luck in the draws, with Best Western facing a tricky marble in the Princess Tiffany heat. But juvenile pacers Perfect Stride (three front line) and Zeuss Bromac have drawn well, the latter starting from one on the second line but behind a horse who should give him a great trail into the race. While the pacers will try and earn their finals spots this Saturday, the three New Zealand-trained trotters in the Crown have straight heats into the final at Maryborough today. And trainer Phil Williamson believes to can win two of them. Williamson couldn’t be happier with Redwood winner Ultimate Stride heading into his juvenile boys trot heat and he would only need to behave and produce his best to win while the Oamaru trainer is confident placing Liberty Stride on the unruly will aid her in her three-year-old fillies heat. “I trailed her on Sunday and she really pleased me,” says Williamson. “She should follow them out more relaxed from the unruly and the reason she has galloped the last start two starts was because she didn’t know what to do when the pressure went on early and tried to race them. “So I think she will be fine this week.” The other Kiwi in the series Kratos would do well to run a place in his three-year-old boys trot heat as he is up against Derby-winning star Majestuoso and runner-up All Cashed Up.   Michael Guerin

Don’t try telling Grant Crabbe that New Zealand harness horses aren’t the equal of the best in the world. Because he is on a one-man crusade to prove they are. And when it comes to his world champion mare Shartin, Crabbe is winning the war. The mare Crabbe bred out of his Canterbury base became the fastest pacing mare of all time when she blasted around The Meadowlands in 1:46.8 recently, winning so easily it is realistic to think she could have threatened the all-comers world mark of 1:46 had she been pushed or asked. That continued a stunning last 18 months for Shartin and coming on top of Lazarus pacing close to 1:46 last year, New Zealand horses are running world class times in an industry where times are a far more valued than in thoroughbred racing. Crabbe, a retired motor mechanic, isn’t surprised by the Kiwi resurgence and is more than willing to put his money where his mouth is to say it can continue. Shartin is by New Zealand pacer Tintin In America, who was a speed freak when trained by Geoff Small but like so many domestic stallions doesn’t get elite broodmares. But the first time Crabbe saw Tintin In America he knew he was the stallion for his one-win mare Bagdarin. “I was doing some work at Nevele R Stud at the time and he got off the float and I said to one of the other guys, “that is the fastest horse I have seen in a straight line since Lord Module. “The other guy told me that was fine but being a colonial stallion he will struggle for numbers. “I knew he was right but I don’t care. I know our horses are as good as anywhere in the world and if our best stallions got the mares that Bettors Delight and Art Major did they would have just as much success.” Back when Crabbe bred Bagdarin to Tintin In America it hardly seemed much of a gamble, she was a one-win mare who only had three starts and was retired “because she had arthritis in her knees so bad they looked like gorgonzola cheese,” he remembers. “But she could run. She was from Bruce Francis’s breed and to be honest she was going to be retired before I started training because she was a bit uncontrollable. “It took me three weeks to get her settled enough to work. But this whole family can run.”Shartin proved that straight away but she was too fast to last with a part-time trainer like Crabbe. After a blazing trial at Ashburton she was sold to Australia where she had a top class three-year-old career before moving on to North America, where she hasn’t stopped improving. So consistently dominant has she been that after last weekend’s world record she deserves to be in the conversation with the greatest New Zealand pacing mares, a list of beauty and brilliance. But even though Bagdarin is only 12 and Crabbe could send her to any stallion in the world and get a high-priced yearling, he keeps the faith with the Kiwis. Shartin has a three-year-old brother “who can really run” called Knockawarwon while last season she even visited local stallion Gold Ace, a former New Zealand racehorse who has only just sired his first domestic winner. “I am a proud Kiwi and I don’t want to hear our horses aren’t as good as the best in North America, cause its not true.” Crabbe says he watches every race Shartin has live online and gets regular emails from her connections but has never been tempted to jump on the big bird to go watch her. “I am sure I’d have a good time if I did go see her but I’d also feel like spare part, and being a former mechanic, I don’t want to feel like a spare part,” he laughs. And as for the question every breeder has to suffer when they sell a horse who goes on to the greatness: does Crabbe ever wonder, what if? “No, never. I actually don’t enjoy racing horses that much because they lose more than they win and I hate losing. “I am not a bad loser, I just hate the disappointment. “So I get just as much thrill watching her race now as I would as the owner and she is bringing other people happiness. “And she is doing our New Zealand industry proud. And I love that.”   Michael Guerin

A total reboot of the Steve Telfer stable could make it one for harness punters to follow in the next month, starting at Alexandra Park tonight. Telfer has three hopes in the major handicap pace tonight and one of the bets of the night earlier in Flying Steps (race six) as he attempts to embellish his strong winter record in recent seasons. Telfer has long seen the logic of attacking winter racing at Alexandra Park, especially now the stakes are almost as lucrative as in the summer. But that attitude had to be shelved this year when his team was struck down with the same virus which has affected some of the north’s bigger stables in recent months. “We had a bug go through the team that probably 80 per cent of them got,” said Telfer. “So we just left them all alone, let them have a total rest for 10-14 days and that worked the trick. “It was frustrating but it worked and there seem to be no lingering effects with any of them.” None were obvious when Flying Steps, a mare involved in a horrific fall last December, was an impressive winner at Cambridge last Thursday. “She won well and should be even better this week,” says Telfer. “Her work was good on Wednesday and I am sure she has improved.” Telfer takes three to the $25,000 handicap tonight, including Dance Time who is back from a useful campaign with Menangle trainer John McCarthy. It is not the first time Telfer has sent horses to different trainers depending on what suits them at certain stages of his career, something he did with recently-retired stable star No Doctor Needed. But while Dance Time has returned looking well Telfer opts for backmarker Check In as the best of his three hopes in the 2700m standing start. “It is never easy to win off 30m but he is a good standing start horse and working well,” says Telfer. “I think both Dance Time and Ivana Flybye will improve with the race this week so Check In would be our best hope.” Tonight’s meeting has a $40,000 Pick6 and plenty of maiden depth and a good intermediate trot.   Michael Guerin

Champion expat reinsman Anthony Butt has a word of warning for Kiwi punters as our interest in the Breeders Crown heats ramps up at Shepparton tonight. Talented juveniles Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride contest different heats of the male series, which has a A$300,000 final at Melton on August 24, with Butt to partner Perfect Stride. Regular reinsman Zachary Butcher is actually in Victoria and will drive Zeuss Bromac, who he trains, but Butt will drive Perfect Stride as he has become the go-to man for big-money NSW owner Emilio Rosati. Butt partnered Ultimate Stride, owned by Rosati, to win the A$50,000 Redwood Trot at Maryborough on Sunday and is engaged to partner four of the eight New Zealand reps in the Breeders Crown. “It works well for me and I hope well for the horses connections,” says Butt mater-of-factly. “Obviously I watch the racing back home very close but also do the form for over here. And I have been thrilled by the support I am getting.” While former Canterbury-based Butt rates Perfect Stride a real speedster who can shock the Aussies in his heat tonight he does say changes to the series suggest punters on horses not drawn to lead should be careful. “With the changes to the series (all heats now in Victoria) all the horses starting in those two heats are guaranteed a place in the semi final next week. “So they could be tame races because those drawn to get back might not be able to win. “A horse like Perfect Stride follows out a good beginner and should be handy on the outer but he looks best driven with a sit. “And with this heat and semi make-up and maybe not much pressure in the heats I can see him having a hard job to win, unless somebody goes hard up front.” The usual leader bias of Breeders Crown heats, and often semis, could aid Zeuss Bromac tonight because while he is in by far the stronger heat he should settle handy from a front line draw Butt will also partner Pukekohe filly Best Western in her three-year-old fillies heat at Kilmore on tomorrow night but she also faces a second line draw but more importantly series hot favourite Princess Tiffany, who has drawn barrier one.   Michael Guerin

Addington’s most consistent horses of the spring are in for a big reward. Because not only will they be winning their usual stakes but the five most consistent pacers between August 16 and October 25 will share in a new $20,000 bonus scheme.  And the Dunstan Horse Feeds Met Mega Series which begins next week won’t discriminate between the best horses in the country and maidens. The series will be open to all horses of both gaits with points accrued in all races at the 11 eligible meetings. Every horse who races will get points for every start. The top five horses on October 25, regardless of class or if they even win a race, will win $20,000 between them, distributed to their owners. The points for the races will be 10 for a win, 7 for second, 4 for third, 3 for fourth, 2 for fifth and one point for every other runner. So at the end of the series, a first for Addington, the Mega Series winner will get $10,000, second place $4000, $3000 for third, $2000 for fourth and the fifth horse’s owners will get $1000, all of that on top of the stakes money won at the eligible meetings. The news series should appeal to a wide array of owners because it not only rewards regular attendees at Addington but while open class horses are eligible they will be starting later and in less race. And any wins in even the most elite races are worth no more than a maiden trot. So while the best horses could accrue 20 or 30 points by winning three open class races, a consistent horse who starts at 10 meetings could accrue more by recording 10 fourth placings. “We are looking forward to  partnering with Dunstan Horse Feeds to bring you this new series,” says long-time Addington racing secretary Brian Rabbitt. “Our aim is to reward those who attend Addington race meetings regularly and are competitive in doing so.” The series is a nice sponsorship fit for Dunstan, with their brand and the series likely to be in the forefront of connections of so many horses throughout the series. Territory Manager for Dunstan Horse Feeds Kristie Hill agreed. “Dunstan Horse Feeds are excited to  be teaming up with Addington Raceway to bring you the series,” said Hill. “It is a series any horse, regardless of rating, can win so it is another step in Dunstan’s commitment to the Standardbred/Harness Racing Industry in New Zealand.”   Michael Guerin

Kiwi harness horses starred on both sides of the globe yesterday with one setting a new world record on harness racing’s biggest day. Former New Zealand mare Shartin stunned harness racing fans when she paced a 1:46.8 mile on Hambletonian Day at The Meadowlands in New Jersey, the fastest mile ever paced by a mare. Her all the way win in the US$183,000 Lady Liberty to continue her incredible last 18 months to confirm her place as the best pacing mare in the world. Ironically, Shartin never raced in New Zealand, being exported to Australia before becoming a superstar in North America, her success even more surprising as she is by former speed freak Tintin In America, who as a stallion has struggled to leave top racehorses. Shartin wasn’t the only Kiwi to star on Hambletonian Day, with driver Dexter Dunn winning the main trot for older horses with Machego and finishing second in the Hambeltonian Oaks, Cane Pace and fourth in the US$1million Hambletonian. Closer to home Oamaru juvenile trotter Ultimate Stride overcame a second line draw courtesy of a beautiful Anthony Butt drive to win the A$50,000 Redwood at Maryborough in Victoria. The giant baby is only campaigning in Victoria after owner Emilio Rosati talked trainer Phil Williamson into the trip because he looks anything but a natural two-year-old. “He is a very good stayer which is why I let him stride down the back straight to turn it into a staying contest,” said Butt. “He is already a good horse but he is only going to get better.” Williamson couldn’t pull off the group race double when heavily-backed favourite Liberty Stride galloped at the start of the A$75,000 Victoria Derby and tailed off.  The race was won by Kiwi bred Majestuoso with Auckland trotter Kratos a solid third.   Michael Guerin

Excitement has replaced nerves for superstar reinsman Zachary Butcher as he looks forward to the biggest fortnight of his racing life. Butcher heads to Victoria on Saturday to prepare the first horse he has ever trained, Zeuss Bromac, for the Breeders Crown, which culminates in a A$300,000 final at Melton on August 24. That is huge money by harness racing standards, even more so for a young horseman whose first representative has only had three career starts. Butcher is usually unflappable for one so young and twice this year he has dared to hand up to favoured rivals on exceptional filly Belle Of Montana well into group one races and backed himself to get his passing lane timing right. In both the Victoria Oaks and Harness Jewels, he was right. Then again, nobody should be surprised. This is the same youngster who a few years ago extravagantly jumped up out of the sulky seat and stood upright on the sulky shafts at full speed at the end of at Alexandra Park race to celebrate beating his father David home in the national premiership for the first time. So confidence isn’t an issue, even though Butcher admits he was nervous when Zeuss Bromac gave him his first win as a trainer last month. “Your first win is something special and even though it was only a maiden I was really nervous going out for that,” he says. “But I’m not about going to Australia. It is exciting and a great opportunity so I am going to go enjoy it. “The bottom line is I have a good horse who is getting better all the time and we get to race for big money without having to take on Mark’s (Purdon) best horses. “I know the Aussies won’t be easy to beat but for that sort of money you wouldn’t think they should be.” Zeuss Bromac suffered a minor setback with a bad blood report that cost him a lead-up race three weeks ago but his work this week has been very strong. “He is jumping out of his skin and with his heat next week I think that will bring him on heaps.” Butcher will also partner Perfect Stride, trained by his boss Ray Green, in his heat next week but before he heads to Victoria he has a couple of winning chances at  Cambridge’s season-opener tonight. His best hope is former southern trotter One Over Da Skye (race seven) who has joined the John and Josh Dickie stable but the latter isn’t driving tonight as he is already in Victoria preparing for Sunday’s Trotting Derby. “The way she trialled last week she will be very hard to beat if she trots all the way,” says Butcher. “She galloped early last Saturday but trotted her last mile in 2:4 and she is apparently better left-handed. So she might have too much speed for most of her rivals,” says Butcher, who has driven several of the other favoured runners in the race. Butcher also rates another Dickie newcomer in Breaking Bad (race three) as an each way chance but says in race four his drive Im A Denny Too might struggle to beat debutante Hampton Banner, who horse he knows well since it is trained by Green.   Michael Guerin

After the initial sighs of Australian relief comes the reality. And that reality is even without a full regiment of the All Stars army to converge on the Victorian carnival which rolls into gear over the next week,  we still have some serious firepower aimed at the August riches which start at Maryborough on Sunday. There would have been plenty of connections of leading Australian age group horses thrilled to here that originally the All Stars weren’t targeting the Breeders Crown with anything like the numbers of the past, although the two they are bringing in Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke are favoured in their divisions. But the Kiwi team has grown to eight and remarkably all of them are trained by people who have had success in Australia before. Joining the Purdon-Rasmussen horses will be fellow Kiwi trainers Ray Green (won BC juvenile with King Of Swing two years ago); John and Josh Dickie (numerous BC, Vic Derby wins and a Great Southern Star), Zac Butcher (who has won Victorian group ones and now make his training debut there) and Phil Williamson, who has an excellent strike rate when he ventures to Victoria. Even Jeremy Young, who makes his Australian debut as the trainer of Breeders Crown three-year-old filly contender Best Western, is widely travelled and successful in Australia when stable travelling foreman for Purdon back in the Auckland Reactor days. So with all eight of the Kiwis set to race in Victoria soon, here is a look at how they stack up.—-   Maryborough Sunday: Ultimate Stride (Redwood): Former sales topping trotter who overcame 30m handicap to win at Maryborough last Thursday, so good to go from a stand for the Redwood. “He is a good horse and better now than when he ran at the Jewels,” says trainer Williamson. “He can definitely win any race he is in and the stand doesn’t bother me.” Anthony Butt will retain the drive on the leggy son of Love You, who is a class horse and has an experience edge at the highest level on the locals. Liberty Stride (Vic Derby): It was impossible not to be impressed by her quite stunning recovery to win at Shepparton last Tuesday and Williamson says she is the real deal. “She would have raced in the best races over home but we were behind the 8-ball with her prep but she has real class. “She can give the boys plenty to think about in the Derby and the crucial factor will be whether she gets it right and is trotting after 400m. If she is, she can win.” Butt will also takes the reins on her. Kratos (Vic Derby): Won his lead-up race at Alexandra Park last Friday against older horses with a 1:59.4 mile coming off second line, his fourth win this season, all against older horses. Second in NZ Sales Series and fourth in the Jewels he is rated a good stayer and late season improver by co-trainer John Dickie. “He is getting better all the time and he will love the three races in as many weeks heading into the Breeders Crown.”Not as good as some of the Dickie superstars of the past, Kratos will still be an each way chance in the Derby and the Crown, with Josh Dickie to drive.  Shepparton, August 7: Perfect Stride: Trained by Ray Green and owned by the Rosatis, Chicago Bull’s little brother is a real speedster. Good enough to compete in the elite early season company in NZ he was put aside with the Breeders Crown in mind and jogged a 1:56.1 mile beating older horses at Alex Park last Friday. That was his second win on end and he is slick and getting tougher with time. Whether he is up to the Emma Stewart horses is a big ask but looks certain to make the final and Zac Butcher will drive in the heat at least. Zeuss Bromac: A dramatic late season improver for Butcher, this is the first horse he has trained. Third in the Jewels at only his second start he beat Perfect Stride last time they met but then missed a race two weeks ago because of a bad blood report. Looks stronger than Perfect Stride but maybe not with as much raw speed. “I don’t think missing that race will hurt him too much and he is a horse on the up,” said Butcher. “So I think he will make the final and hopefully he will keep improving on the way there. He is pretty untapped.” Kilmore, August 8 Our Princess Tiffany: Needs no introduction, she is sheer class. Already the winner of three Oaks races it will take something very special to beat her in the series if she brings her best form. Best Western: Stunned Belle Of Montana to win the Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park in March to give trainer Jeremy Young, known as Zinny, his first group one win. Not as good as Princess Tiffany but she is tough and follows a hot speed so Australian racing should suit her. “Maybe she can’t beat Princess Tiffany but she definitely can’t beat her if we don’t go so she will be on the plane with the others on Wednesday,” said Young. A strong second in a 1:55.1 mile at Alexandra Park last Friday, Best Western is yet another Breeders Crown drive for Anthony Butt.  Ballarat, August 9: Jesse Duke: Has a good horse’s record and would be a lot better but for racing some really classy stablemates in Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured. Still won a Jewels and is a good stayer but meets a solid crop of horses. Won’t just turn up and win as so many Purdon-Rasmussen horses have in the past but his $3 futures quote with the TAB could be a lot shorter because you know he will be in the final and once there the All Stars horses are there they are usually well backed. Probably no better than 3-4 others in the series. Michael Guerin

The future of the TAB and the way Kiwis bet on racing and sport is under the most in-depth investigation in its history. But those expecting quick changes or a wholesale outsourcing of the TAB's activities to overseas operators could be in for a shock. The Racing Industry Transition Authority took over the running of what used to be known as the New Zealand Racing Board last week, the six-person RITA panel replacing the former NZRB executive on July 1, a change that will have gone largely unnoticed by most punters. But RITA will now be charged with deciding the future path of the racing industry and which recommendations outlined in the Messara Report, released by Racing Minister Winston Peters last year, can and will be implemented. While there were initial calls for the Messara report to be implemented in its totality, that won't, and almost certainly legally can't, happen. Several key recommendations around betting levies, race fields legislation and the formation of RITA have already been put in place and the Weekend Herald understands RITA met with the TAB's leaders this week to ask some hard questions. The answers they glean about the TAB's performance, both in the marketplace and internally, will help with their eventual report to the Minister around any potential outsourcing of the TAB or the creation of joint ventures. Outsourcing of the TAB was one of the hottest topics post the Messara report, especially as many in the racing industry are disappointed or angry at the TAB's performance, costs and returns to the industry. Those returns would seem unlikely to grow this year although the exact funding figures for the new season are yet to be released. There have been very vocal calls for the whole TAB business to be outsourced, which would mean a lot less costs but would result in the industry being controlled by an overseas betting agency. As that conversation has matured the appetite for a total outsourcing has waned in many quarters as it has become more apparent while the licence to bet on New Zealand racing and sport could be granted for a set period of time, once the local TAB is dismantled, there would be no putting it back together again. The thoroughbred code has been by far the biggest advocate for outsourcing but they failed to get their preferred nominated rep on RITA and the six-person panel now has a neutral look to it, whereas an NZTR rep would almost certainly be a vote for outsourcing. Instead it looks more likely RITA would advise the Minister that rather than outsourcing the TAB as a whole, all and any joint ventures should be investigated and any future bidding process for betting rights should be open to all parties to increase competition and boost the price. The Australian TAB, known as Tabcorp, are certain to bid for the licence and most other facets of the TAB's business, while Sportsbet, like Tabcorp, put forward an initial soft offer when outsourcing was first investigated by a committee from NZRB and the codes last year. The Weekend Herald understands those initial offers, which were always going to be lowball, were of around $100 million for a 25-year licence, including broadcasting and digital media rights as well as the right to programme New Zealand race times. While $4m a year doesn't sound a lot of money, the real benefit to the industry was seen as the cost savings. Betting industry insiders suggest at least two other massive overseas bookmakers are investigating bidding for the New Zealand betting licence, one reason RITA will want any tendering process to start with a clean sheet of paper. While that TAB entire package could still potentially be up for grabs for the right money, RITA's members are more likely to suggest to the Minister he protect the independence of New Zealand racing first and look at joint ventures to increase returns to the industry without dismantling the TAB. That could mean protecting the likes of broadcasting and the times local meetings are programmed, inside a co-operative framework with Australia, which already takes place. Complicating the matter is how any overseas operator who won the licence for betting on New Zealand racing and sport would meet retail obligations — running your local TAB or pub tab. Retail outlets are expensive and nowhere near as profitable as ever-growing online gambling but are still seen as an important link between betting and the general public. That is just another piece of a very complicated outsourcing or joint venture puzzle and one that RITA looks increasingly likely to start working on with a clean sheet of paper. And if overseas examples are anything to go by, the process could take more than two years to complete if a major outsourcing, or more likely joint venture, was entered into. WHAT THE CODES THINK Mauro Barsi, chief executive, Greyhound Racing NZ: "There is merit in investigating the outsource option, and we should definitely complete a proper due diligence process for the industry, one capable of clearly communicating the risks and rewards of such a major transaction for an iconic New Zealand owned business. Outsourcing is, however, only one option of many. This type of choice is a once in a lifetime decision. Once outsourced it would be very difficult to return to the industry and while there may be substantial monetary rewards initially, there are also questions to be answered about commitments to ongoing investment, control of the racing calendar and the place for "industry good" in a more commercial environment. Overall, we welcome the discussion and believe that the outcome of a robust process — whatever that might be — will be good for the industry." Bernard Saundry, chief executive NZ Thoroughbred Racing: "Outsourcing is not a true description of what we are attempting to achieve — in effect, the racing industry is seeking to partner with an international operator to run the TAB. This would allow continued investment in the betting business to stay relevant and compete. We do not have the scale to compete successfully in a global betting and entertainment marketplace. Improving returns to the 50,000 people involved in NZ racing is our priority. Partnering with an international operator will provide operational synergies, access to better technology and an improved customer experience for punters on and off the track while ensuring we can control our industry and its future." Peter Jensen, chief executive, Harness Racing NZ: "Our focus is on improving returns to our stakeholders and the key to this is growing distributions, in a meaningful way, from the wagering operator. We are agnostic on whether this is achieved through improved performance from the TAB or via an outsourcing or joint-venture arrangement with an off-shore operator. Punters in New Zealand now have many options in terms of who they choose to bet with so the focus must be on innovation, improving engagement and ensuring the local offer is competitive. As an industry we cannot take a short-term view on this decision. While we need an immediate injection of new funding, what is equally important is that we are building a sustainable industry that our participants are able to invest with." $400m dilemma for industry It is the industry money maker nobody seems to be talking about and many punters won't want put in place. But banning New Zealanders from betting with overseas agencies could be one of the quickest money makers for the struggling racing industry. At present Kiwi punters enjoy some of the most liberal internet betting laws in the world and many, including those at the top of the three racing codes, bet not just with the TAB but with overseas bookmakers, most via the internet. Latest estimates suggest more than $400 million a year is lost to overseas betting agencies and while the new point of consumption tax and race fields legislation will claw some profits back from that, if that $400m was bet with the New Zealand TAB, the returns to the local industry would be enormously higher. Of course not all that $400m would bet here if the overseas options disappeared but put simply, if Kiwis could only bet with the TAB here, the racing and sports industries would make a lot more money. That would effectively give the TAB a monopoly on all racing and sports gambling conducted in New Zealand and has a second, hugely important benefit. Officials from overseas agencies set to bid for a New Zealand betting licence have confirmed they would pay significantly more for those rights if they were a monopoly, which would translate to a much bigger up-front payment to the racing industry. Of course, having only one bookmaker available to New Zealand punters could see them at the mercy of markets set to brutally high percentages but that could be tempered by rules around setting markets and even a punters' watchdog agency, who ensured markets and restrictions on winning punters were kept in line with overseas norms. Closing New Zealand punting borders would require a legislative change and wouldn't be popular with the punters who currently enjoy a myriad of options. But it poses the question for punters: are you willing to cop less choice about where you bet if the whole industry profits?   Michael Guerin

There is good news and bad for fans of champion harness racing driver Dexter Dunn. The good news is the Kiwi superstar of the sulky is killing it in his first full season in North America. The bad news is, that means he won’t be seen back driving here any time soon. Or, in fact, maybe ever. Dunn left for the States last winter hoping to break into the big time but knew just how hard difficult that could be. He honestly thought he might last three months but hoped to build a foundation to make a real go of a career this year or the next. But after 210 wins this year alone worth US$3,792,250 in stakes, Dunn sits in the top echelon of North American harness reinsmen. He is the fourth highest-earning driver in the United States and Canada and sits 13th on the two-country premiership but that is often skewered toward drivers who dominate at smaller tracks and wrack up some huge numbers, whereas Dunn is based in the most competitive harness racing scene in the world. Dunn’s numbers are huge themselves, with his 1336 drives so far this year already well past the 1263 drives he had in 2009, his busiest ever seaso in New Zealand. The North America season is the calendar year, so the now 29-year-old has driven more horses and nearly as many winners as his best New Zealand’s season at just the half way stage of their season. “To be honest, it has been gone remarkably well,” Dunn told the Herald. “I knew it would be hard to break into over here because I had tried before so for it to go this well is very satisfying. “I have had a lot of support from some really good people and I’ve also worked pretty hard.” That has meant a huge change in lifestyle for Dunn, who might have driven three or four days a week on average in New Zealand but now often drives at two meetings in a day and drives in some capacity almost every day. “There is a lot of racing over here so the lifestyle is simply that, racing,” says Dunn. “I have had days where I have driven 25 horses at two different meetings, and that is just the actual races. “And then we have the qualifiers (trials) which often has like a dozen heats for the babies alone at this time of the year. “And if you want to get good drives you need to be driving at the qualifiers too. “So I drove right through the winter to get established and that really helped. “But it is a life that doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else”Dunn has already tasted elite level success in the Fan Hanover in Canada and finished second in the North America Cup there and when the Herald caught up with him Monday night (US time) he has just driven a treble at Yonkers. But what comes next is more important, with the richest races just around the corner as well as the dream of getting on a special juvenile pacer. “There are a lot of really big races coming up and that will be fun. “But it is also very different from back home. The outsiders don’t tend to win here quite as often and obviously we don’t get driving fees, so driving in all those races doesn’t matter as much as stakes do. “It has gone incredibly well though so I have no plans to come back home to drive any time soon,” says the 10-time NZ premiership winner.   Michael Guerin

One of the most unlikely charges toward this season’s Horse of the Year honours has been put on hold for a week. But if Kenny’s Dream can pull off a title that will cement her broodmare career champion trainer of trotters Phil Williamson will have good mate Tony Herlihy to thank.  Just three months ago Kenny’s Dream was a battling southern trotter going nowhere fast, except at home where she worked well before failing to live up to that on racenight.  Williamson brought her north hoping the right-handed racing her work had suggested would suit her would re-ignite her stumbling career.  Not even he could have dreamed what would unfold.  Kenny’s Dream has won four of her five starts at Alexandra Park, the last two when trained by Herlihy and captured a $25,000 race last Friday night.  Herlihy will allow her to bypass the 2200m main trot at Alexandra Park this Friday because her handicap would have made it awfully hard to win but she is likely to take on 2700m again next week.  And if she continues on her winning way then the Four-Year-Old Mare of the Year title looks as good as hers.  She already has more wins than any other mare of her age, with four this season and five would almost certainly wrap up the title.  Her biggest rival might actually be a horse who hasn’t raced in New Zealand this season in Show Gait, who won the Breeders Crown for three-year-old trotters in Victoria last August.  Because that falls outside our season Show Gait’s group one performance will be eligible for votes for the four-year-old mare category but the fact that race was nearly a year ago and she hasn’t raced since means many voters will overlook her.  So the title looks the surprise package Kenny’s Dream’s to lose and while four-year-old trotting mare of the year is hardly the most glamorous title in racing, it stays in the yearling sales catalogues for as long as that family exists.  That and the fact Kenny’s Dream is beautifully bred means Williamson, who still owns the mare, now has a serious broodmare prospect on is hands.  “I think Phil is pretty happy about how it has all gone,” laughs Herlihy.  “He hoped the trip up here would turn her around and it has totally changed her.  “Now she races like a really good mare yet is laid-back at home.  “So we will probably give her one more start and then a spell and might even nominate her for the Inter Dominions since they are close to home.”A horse of the year title for Kenny’s Dream could make for a big awards night for Herlihy as he has two Jewels winners in Tickle Me Pink (three-year-old filly) and Bolt Of Brilliance (juvenile male trotter) who could also win HOTY titles.  Add to that his open class star Temporale, who is due back into stable work in a few weeks, new top level graduate in Forget The Price Tag and one of the country’s best juvenile trotting fillies in Cheeky Babe and the South Auckland trainer has one of the strongest trotting teams in Australasia. “I probably have 8 or 10 trotters here from about 30 horses in work and with the improvement in the breed they are easier to train than they used to be.”   Michael Guerin

Don’t feel too miffed if you can’t really remember the best horse racing at Alexandra Park tonight.  Because good horses don’t come much more forgotten than The Devils Own, who resumes in the $30,000 Smith And Partners Winter Cup. It wasn’t always that way though.  Two years ago he was being touted as the next big thing in pacing, a very good juvenile who looked certain to be better at three. He paced a stunning 1:52.4 mile rate for 1950m winning the Sales Series Pace at Addington, beating Spankem and Alta Maestro but that May 2017 win was his last visit to the winner’s circle.  That three-year-old season that promised so much saw the emergence of a better horse in Chase Auckland who dominated at home. Then The Devils Own finished third in a Victoria Derby but returned home soon after with hock and other soundness issues.  His owners have given him plenty of time, well over a year away from the track, and transferred him from the All Stars to new trainer Brent Mangos to take advantage of Auckland stakes like the $30,000 tonight.  And Mangos likes what the big horse has shown him.  “He feels a like a good horse should,” he offers. “You can tell he has been a good horse in the past and the owners looked after him giving him all the time off so his legs have been great, no issues.”  The Devils Own was given two quiet workouts by Mangos to start this campaign but it is his latest public outing that gave the Pukekohe trainer the most confidence The Devil Own can win fresh-up tonight. “I took him to Cambridge two weeks ago and it wasn’t so much a proper workout as him working with a galloping pacemaker,” explains Mangos.  “But he did it very well. He paced his last 800m in 56.2 seconds, his final 400m in 27 around Cambridge and I think it has really brought him on.  “We actually gave him a start from behind the tapes that day and while it spooked him a bit I think the small field will help him handle the stand this week.  “He is a lovely big relaxed horse so the stand doesn’t worry me too much.”  With the scratching of the in-form Check In and the fact key front line rival Blazen River is also fresh-up tonight, The Devils Own may well be able to get away his lack of race fitness tonight.  Like the Winter Cup the main trot tonight is a small but interesting field but if Kenny’s Dream brings the same form she did last start she could make it four wins from five Alexandra Park starts.  She arrived north in the care of Phil Williamson hardly rated a star but has been a huge improver and bolted in last start but she does meet a rival of similar talent in Credit Master tonight, although she has a head start and more consistent manners over him.   Michael Guerin

For many of the horses racing at Alexandra Park tonight this is as good as it gets.  The best stakes in the country, equivalent to the peak of summer, but not having to take on the superstar younger horses because most are in winter hibernation.  Winter at The Park is the ideal season for horses who wouldn’t shine at the premier meetings to try to earn a year’s training fees without a Cup horse in sight.  That is the story for most racing there tonight and it makes you wonder why more trainers don’t set their lesser horses for the off-season. Maybe some day they will.  But among the brave battlers and untapped youngsters tonight there will be a horse with a totally different aim. His name is Perfect Stride and he is trying to win his way to the Breeders Crown.  That A$300,000 finale comes up in Victoria in late August and with the news the big name babies from the Jewels aren’t going, Perfect Stride now looms as a serious contender.  His trainer Ray Green knows what it takes to win the Breeders Crown juvenile, he did it with King Of Swing a couple of seasons ago, being smart enough to go where New Zealand’s elite weren’t.  With big-spending owner Emilio Rosati always keen to chase the glamour races, Green is aiming Perfect Stride at the same Aussie pot of gold.  “The owners are keen and I think he is good enough to be very competitive,” says Green. “The series is a bit more challenging this year because the heats and semis are also in Victoria but that also means some other horses from here aren’t going.  “So if he races as well in the next few weeks as we expect then he will go.”Perfect Stride is the younger brother of WA superstar Chicago Bull and has the family ability.  He had the natural speed to go with the better early season two-year-olds and missing the autumn features wouldn’t have done him any harm.  Punters who took the long odds-on about him at Cambridge last week would have felt sick when first a hydraulic malfunction on the mobile meant his race was a moving star (admittedly a good one) and then Perfect Stride had a torrid time being attacked in front.  He only just went down and Green says he is trained on well so he should be winning race five, even against southerner Divinia Bellezza, who stunned when second to Elle Mac in the Jewels two weeks ago. Green loves the winter racing stakes are thinks Lindi Lincoln (race two), The Empress (race four) and Man Of Action (race 10) all have good each way chances.  But for many harness punters the focus of the night will be Addington’s Uncut Gems meeting, featuring the unbeaten pride of Southland racing U May Cullect.  He meets two good horses in Triple Eight and Classic Brigade but he should simply be too fast.   Michael Guerin

Superstar pacer Turn It Up is out of the New Zealand Cup and Auckland Inter Dominions and almost certain not to race again this year. The Auckland Cup, Easter Cup and Harness Jewels winner has undergone an operation to remove cartilage damage in both his front legs, an issue which may have been bothering him in the second half of this season. While trainer Mark Purdon says the prognosis is good for a full recovery the time Turn It Up will need off to recover from the operation rules him out of the biggest races of the domestic season. “The vets have told us 12 weeks away from training,” Purdon told the Herald. “So it probably won’t even be back jogging until mid-September and that means the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominions in Auckland are definitely gone. “And I’d be almost certain he won’t race again this year so the Auckland Cup would be gone too. “But that still leaves some big races in Australia in the second half of the season, races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. “So while it is disappointing to not have him for races like the Cup and the Interdoms, long-term it is the right thing for the horse.”Purdon says the issues weren’t causing Turn It Up any pain when racing but they could have deteriorated with time so operating now was the best option. Turn It Up, who has never finished further back than second in 15 starts, having won 11 of them, was favourite for both the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominion but markets are now suspended. His withdrawal still leaves the All Stars with the two New Zealand favourites in Miracle Mile winner Spankem and defending Cup champion Thefixer. Michael Guerin

Kirsten Barclay isn't scared of the challenges that lie ahead of Southland sensation U May Cullect. Because the way she looks at it, if taking on the best horses and trainers in the country doesn't excite her, she is in the wrong job. Barclay is the co-trainer and driver of unbeaten pacer U May Cullect, who is very good and might even be very special. He faces the biggest challenge so far of his six-start career in the $40,000 Uncut Gems Male Pace at Addington tomorrow night, up against genuine open class horses in Classic Brigade and Triple Eight. The Uncut Gems are for horses who haven't won a race worth more than $55,000 and didn't run top three in the recent Jewels. With better legs, U May Cullect would be ineligible by now. He only started racing this season as a 5-year-old because he had damaged the tendon in his near-side leg twice as a younger horse. When he did finally make it to the races this season the shock value was instantaneous, with his six wins having come with an average five-length margin. While his margins and times, including a 1:52.1 mile at his second start, are those of a good horse, his explosive speed and the same pacing action that made his sire Gotta Go Cullect one of the best juveniles of his era are what set him apart from the other open class pretenders. Already a rating90 horse U May Cullect is as good as qualified for the New Zealand Cup, which would be a dream come true for Barclay, who trains him with Paul "Tank" Ellis. But the road to the New Zealand Cup, or any other serious open class races next season, leads through the pacing might of the All Stars stables, led by Spankem and defending Cup hero Thefixer. Barclay is unfazed. "We know how good these top horses are and how good trainers Mark [Purdon] and Natalie [Rasmussen] are," she offers. "But if you aren't excited by taking them on then I think you are in the wrong game. That is what we want to do, go up against the best and see how we go. "I am not saying we will beat their best horses but there is only one way to find out. "So if he holds together and we are lucky enough to be in a race like the Cup I'd be excited about it, not scared of them." Although beating the elite is a far cry from beating up on Southland's next best, some of the horses U May Cullect meets over the 2600m mobile tomorrow night would not be out of place in a New Zealand Cup so if he beats them easily the hype machine will change gear. While U May Cullect was too old to contest the Jewels, it would have been a fascinating drag race up the Addington straight had he sat on Turn It Up's back on Jewels day, particularly as the Auckland Cup winner understandably wasn't as sharp as earlier in the season. Barclay admits as exciting as her new equine toy is — "he is amazing to drive at full speed" — she tries not to get carried away with what the future holds. "For me it is a big deal to be going to Addington with a really good horse who we think can win. "This week's race is a big deal for us and I'll be a bit nervous. "Before we won with him there in April I had only ever won one race at Addington before." That was 17 years ago so Barclay is entering foreign territory but at least she is doing so with an owner who backs her, a canny training partner she trusts and U May Cullect, who is as weird as he is fast. "Yep, he is a bit of a weirdo," she admits. "He spends most of his time being worked at the beach and he doesn't really like people fussing over him. He is a bit of a loner. "But he is lovely to work with and every time we find a new challenge for him he loves it." Challenges don't come much bigger in harness racing than the second Tuesday in November at Addington. Barclay won't shy away.   Michael Guerin

Steven Telfer’s long-running support of junior drivers should see him rewarded in the open race at Alexandra Park tonight. Telfer goes into the seven-horse race at the truncated meeting with three winning chances, two of them only getting starts because the race conditions allow higher rated horses to start with a concession driver. So Telfer has opted for Alicia Harrison on favourite Check In and Fergus Schumacher on Ivana Flybye, with another junior driver in stable regular Benjamin Butcher to partner Parker. Telfer giving younger drivers an opportunity is nothing new, of the 25 winners he has trained this season 10 (40 per cent) have been driven by juniors, a generous amount considering Telfer’s is a high profile stable with well bred stock so he could easily secure senior drivers. He thinks Check In is the best winning chance of the three after placings behind On The Cards and Triple Eight recently and Telfer is happy to have Harrison on.  “She is a good young driver and does her homework so I am sure she will do a good job,” says Telfer. “He is probably in the right race to go forward and be put in the race and he has to be hard to beat.” But Telfer warns punters to watch out for Ivana Flybye as the winter progresses. “She is coming back to her best after a few setbacks and has worked well this week.” Telfer could have a good start to the night with Olivia Rachel having the gate speed to use the ace draw in race two in a race where most of her rivals probably aren’t good enough to work and win so the marker pegs run looks ideal. He is hoping Court On The Edge gets that same marker pegs run in race three but even that may only make him a place chance as rivals Gambit, Ferritts Sister and The Stunning Nun all look better than your average horse in this grade. The seven-race card contains three trotting races as they continue to be the saver for fields in the north, especially during winter and even more so the day after a Cambridge meeting. The main trot is the best race of the night with Pres The Belle, Credit Master, Sunny Glenis, Missandei, Ace Commander and Paramount King all having close to open class potential so manners and racing luck will be crucial.   Michael Guerin

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