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Three of New Zealand’s best pacers will miss their biggest targets of the season after shock errors ruled them out of Menangle features over the next fortnight. Star Galleria misses his shot at qualifying for next week’s A$1 million Miracle Mile and Utmost Delight and Elle Mac the Ladyship Mile after all missed the nomination cut off yesterday morning for the preludes at Menangle this Saturday.  Star Galleria needed to contest a $100,00 prelude of the Miracle Mile to have any chance of qualifying for the great race, while his stablemate Utmost Delight and the All Stars-trained Elle Mac had to start in a mares race this week and finish top four to qualify for the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile.  Trainer Steven Reid missed the nomination time for both Star Galleria and Utmost Delight by two minutes.  “I was buying a horse at the sales and thought I had plenty of time but when I went to nominate the free calling number you use doesn’t work from New Zealand,” explained Reid.  “By the time I googled the office number and then rang them, got through to the racing office via reception I was too late. “I tried to explain what happened but their boss John Dumesny told me he would check the phone records and if I was late they couldn’t bend the rules.  “He checked the phone log and I was two minutes later and they won’t let them start. So they are coming home.”  While Reid was disappointed, the owners of Utmost Delight, Paul and Mary Kenny, were pragmatic about the error.  “It is disappointing but people make mistakes,” said Kenny, who still has Dream About Me in the race.   Elle Mac was being nominated online but because she had never raced in Australia she was not already in their system so that couldn’t be completed and by the time the phone call was made to try and rectify that problem it was too late.  That leaves New Zealand with six potential Miracle Mile contenders, all from the All Stars, contesting preludes on Saturday while Dream About Me (Ladyship Mile), Princess Tiffany (NSW Oaks) and I’m Anothermasterpiece (NSW Derby) will contest preludes of those races. Michael Guerin

Harness racing’s yearling sales got the turbo boost they needed with a dramatic first entry into the industry by New Zealand Bloodstock at Karaka yesterday.  The National Standardbred Yearling Sale, held for the first time since thoroughbred powerhouse New Zealand Bloodstock opened their standardbred division last year (NZBS) could only be termed a huge success, with a record average for a harness racing sale in this part of the world.  And with the promise that things are likely to get better.  Right from parade day on Sunday the sales ground had more hype and confidence than in years and it resulted in 13 yearlings being sold for $100,000 or more, topped by the $190,000 for Lot 18, a Art Major colt from Goodlookinggirl, a half sister to top mare Elle Mac.  Fittingly on a day when the thoroughbred theme was so strongly in evidence he was purchased by one of New Zealand’s most successful ever galloping trainers in Graeme Rogerson.  Rogerson became heavily involved in harness racing a decade ago and even finished second on the trainers premiership but that side of his dual-code operation had quietened right down until some recent success.  But he was aggressive early yesterday in purchasing the top lot and a $120,000 Bettors Delight filly, the latter sold by a group of owners including former Black Caps bowling star Kyle Mills and All Black halfback Ant Strachan. But Rogerson wasn’t the only one bidding up big early as Lincoln Farms went to $140,000 for a Bettors Delight colt early while later in the sale traditional big names like buyers Jean Feiss, Emilio and Mary Rosati, Mark Purdon and Phil and Glenys Kennard purchased $100,000 or higher lots. But there was also new blood in Auckland-based owner Ross Dallimore, who spent $320,000 on four lots, including $110,000 for a Mach Three colt and $105,000 for a son of Bettors Delight, all four likely to be trained by John and Josh Dickie.  While most of the Australian interest was focussed at the middle market, four of the $100,000 plus lots were purchased by Australian-based owners but most are likely to be trained, at least early in their careers, in New Zealand.  Once the dust had settled on a rapid-fire day of selling the average of $46,750 will have left harness racing regulars stunned, up enormously on the $33,850 average price last year.  That came as 100 lots were sold for a total of $4,675,000, a clearance rate of 73 per cent that should bump up slightly after post-sale deals but still one NZBS will be keen to see improve.  NZBS managing director Andrew Seabrook was beaming as he left the sales ground bound for Christchurch, where the next two days of the sales will be held. “We are thrilled with that as a start for our business in harness racing but also for the industry as a whole,” said Seabrook.  “We had a great top end and a lot of happy vendors and some plenty of strong interest from Australia, some of which will flow on to Christchurch.  “But this is also a start for us and we want the sales to get bigger and better.”  He wasn’t the only New Zealand Bloodstock boss smiling as the company’s supremo Sir Peter Vela was chuffed to pick up a Bettors Delight colt for a bargain $40,000, with the famous Pencarrow colours to be worn by the colt for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Other highlights were the strong money for top-end trotters, with two topping $100,000, both sold by Breckon Bloodstock, while second season sire Sweet Lou had a big day of the office.  Both of the heavyweight vendors, Breckon Bloodstock and Woodlands Stud, were enthused by the new dawn of harness racing sales. How the momentum carries to today’s Christchurch sale without their firepower will be interesting.   Michael Guerin

Champion Australian reinsman Chris Alford says taking on the most feared horse in harness racing could actually help Poster Boy win the A$1million Miracle Mile.  The Victorian four-year-old earned an automatic invite to Australasia’s richest harness race with a stunning display in the A$200,000 Chariots of Fire at Menangle on Saturday night.  He came from fourth last at the 600m mark to blow past some superstar opponents and had punters beaming after being backed in from $5.50 to start $3.80.  Trainer Emma Stewart was quick to accept the invite to the Miracle Mile on Saturday week so Poster Boy joins longshot Newcastle Mile winner Yayas Hot Spot as the only guaranteed starters with the other six spots to be decided from two preludes at Menangle this Saturday.  In one of those preludes will be the iron warrior of pacing Tiger Tara, fresh from adding the Hunter Cup at Melton to his Inter Dominion and Victoria Cup victories this season which has seen him ascend to the top of the Australian pacing ranks.  But while Tiger Tara remains the $3.50 Miracle Mile favourite with the Australian TAB compared with Poster Boy’s $6.50, driver Alford says the hard-running champ could aid Poster Boy.  “The harder they go in the Mile the better it will suit us,” said Alford, who tipped Poster Boy strongly last week.  “He will follow any speed and in fact his best chance of winning the Mile would be if they went really hard and he can sit off them just like he did tonight.  “I am glad Emma accepted the invite because he has developed into a really good Grand Circuit horse.  “He has always been fast but now he is strong enough to carry that speed longer and that is what you need for a Miracle Mile.” While Poster Boy has his spot in the great race the competition for the remaining six places has intensified as more big names eye the preludes.  Tiger Tara’s trainer Kevin Pizzuto will also have Majordan in them after he smashed some serious free-for-all opponents on Saturday night, leading from barrier nine to pace 1:49.5, which compares favourably with Poster Boy’s 1:49.1 considering Majordan did all the work in his race.  “He is a really good horse but Tiger is flying at the moment,” said Pizzuto comparing the pair.  Kiwi trainer Mark Purdon could have up to five prelude contenders, including Chase Auckland who was the luckless Chariots favourite after never getting clear in the straight.  Saturday’s meeting will also sees heats of the NSW Derby and Oaks as well as the open class mares chasing the final four spots in the Ladyship Mile, which will be run Miracle Mile night March 2.  Dream About Me and Elle Mac will make last minute trips to Sydney on Friday to contest the final lead-up to the Ladyship Mile, with the pair needing at least a top four finish to be guaranteed a start.  And they will be joined on the flight by Princess Tiffany, who was originally going to miss the NSW Oaks but after trialling well at Rangiora last week she will head to Menangle on Saturday night for the Oaks heats. Michael Guerin

New Zealand Bloodstock look to be getting into the standardbred business at the right time.  The auction house which has taken New Zealand thoroughbreds to the world hold their first yearling sales for harness horses at their famed Karaka grounds today after launching NZBS last year. That put them in direct competition with long-time standardbred sales company PGG Wrightson and the competition didn’t last long, with every major vendor in the country supporting NZBS.  They are set to be rewarded with a larger financial contribution to the Sales Series programme and a return of the Ready to Run sale in October and better financing rates for pin-hookers, which looks set to be a  popular option for young trainers in particular.  They are icing on the cake though and the real reasons for optimism heading into today’s sale and the two days in Christchurch which follow are the basic fundamentals — supply and demand and high quality stock.  The standardbred breeding industry is shrinking but the demand for the product in Australia and a return of the North American market means there are less horses but more people wanting them. Add that to increasing stakes domestically, headlined by Alexandra Park, and there will be no shortage of people wanting good horses.  With today’s catalogue full of stock by sales legend Bettors Delight, his regular support cast of stallions like Art Major, American Ideal, Somebeachsomewhere and newcomers like Sweet Lou and Captaintreacherous, the pacing stallions on show are the equal of any where in the world.  But even more importantly the drafts on offer today have won race reviews from the right people.  Champion trainer Mark Purdon told the Herald the standard of yearling he has seen in the north this summer at the best he has ever viewed while vendors, even away from powerhouses like Woodlands and Breckon Farms, say they have had more visitors and paraded their horses more often than in recent years.  NZBS boss Andrew Seabrook says while today is a launching pad for the company into the standardbred industry they have big plans, including dreams of boosting the glamour sales series races to $500,000 in years to come.  After the runaway success of the Karaka Million thoroughbred meeting, such claims will be music to the ears of harness breeders.  There will still be bargains at Karaka today, although they are usually more easily found at the larger Canterbury sale, and there will still be disappointed vendors, that is the nature of any horse sale.  But with the horses available, the interest from overseas and a pin-hooking market to help boost the lower end, NZBS’s first real day at the office should prove a success.   Michael Guerin

 A testing workout on Wednesday morning has convinced co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen her glamour mares can bounce back in the $100,000 NZ Breeders Stakes at Addington tonight. And she says while Dream About Me may still be the stable's best mare Elle Mac is the one to beat in tonight's 2600m group one. The pair cost punters plenty when they led and trailed but were beaten out of a place in a similar race two week ago. Post-race blood tests suggested a virus which was just starting to come on and, after that was treated, the open class mares have had their workload upped this week.  Rasmussen has spent much of the last month in Australia with partner Mark Purdon preparing their stars for Victorian and NSW assignments but she returned this week to put the polish on some of the stable stars set to race at tonight's big Addington meeting. "I am sure the mares will go better than last start," she explains. "It was just one of those things. The blood tests before the race were fine but the one after wasn't, so it must have been coming on that day. "They are good now and I really liked how they worked on Wednesday morning." Rasmussen drove Elle Mac in that workout as she will tonight and says she narrowly favours her as the stable's best chance because of her front line draw tonight, whereas Dream About Me has to come off the second line. "I would like to think my mare could lead and I'd most likely stay there and that makes it harder for Dream About Me, even though she might still be the better mare." Dibaba, who caused the shock beating the pair last start, looks at least a place chance again but if Elle Mac leads and races up to her national record 1700m setting form of two starts ago it will take a big performance to beat her.  Rasmussen admits to being as happy but not as confident with Ultimate Machete in tonight's Summer Cup, even though he is clearly the best horse in the race. Good enough to sit parked outside and beat Tiger Tara last season, Ultimate Machete has raced sparingly because of hoof issues this season but worked well this week. "We know he is the best horse in the race but being drawn wide and it being 1980m he could have to work very hard so I can see it being a tricky race for him," says Rasmussen. "He is the top pick of our pair in the race but I can't say he is a good thing and if Funatthebeach got the sit on him he could outsprint him." The richest stake of tonight's meeting could come north as Barry Purdon-trained filly Havtime is the hot favourite in a moderate line-up for the $150,000 Sales Series Pace. Barry also has the firepower to dominate the main pace at Alexandra Park tonight, with Jack's Legend and On The Cards a great chance to repeat their last start quinella in the open sprint. Meanwhile, heavy support has seen the Purdon-Rasmussen trained Chase Auckland tighten to favouritism for tomorrow night's A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle. "He will be a lot better for his three starts over there and is getting fitter all the time," says Rasmussen. "I will drive him off the gate hard to use his ace draw and hopefully lead or trail and I think he will be hard to beat but it is a strong field." NZ Cup winner Thefixer makes his Menangle debut a race earlier and will be heavily supported but Kiwi horses can often be vulnerable fresh up in fast mile races at Menangle so punters should be careful. Michael Guerin

AUSTRALIA’S most successful driver says he doesn’t fear the country’s most exciting pacer in Saturday’s $200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle.  And Chris Alford says he even has a surprising plan how to beat Ignatius with Victorian star Poster Boy.  Ignatius started the week as the TAB favourite for Saturday night’s great four-year-old mile but has lost that honour to Chase Auckland, even after he sat parked outside him and beat him last Saturday.  That would seem to be punters rallying for the Purdon-Rasmussen training factor as well as Chase Auckland having the ace draw.  But Chris Alford, the most successful harness driver in Australian history with over 6700 wins, says he can beat both of them with Poster Boy.  The latter has only met Ignatius twice and beaten him both times as well as winning the NSW Derby this time last year.  Add that to a comeback win over Inter Dominion star Spankem two starts ago and a walk in the park at Melton last Saturday and Poster Boy’s $5.50 bookies quote starts to look inviting.  One of the reasons for the value is his widish draw at barrier seven but Alford says rather than track Ignatius, who many expect to see parked again, he wants to stay in front of him.  “I think we are every bit as good as him,” he offers.  “And we are drawn inside him so my first plan would be to stay in front of him. “This has always been a good horse because he has real speed but now he has developed the stamina to go with it.  “So he could be in for a very good season.” The Chariots has gone from being a great four-year-old race to one of the fastest miles run in Australasia every year and the winners now become genuine contenders for the Miracle Mile, as shown by the performances of Have Faith In Me (won Miracle Mile), Lazarus (third) and Jilliby Kung Fu (second) in recent season.  But whether Poster Boy is ready for a Miracle Mile on March 2 should be win on Saturday will be up to trainer Emma Stewart. “Emma and Clayton (Tonkin, partner) have a great record at Menangle and they are one of the few stables from down here where the horses don’t need a run on the track before they showed their best up there.  “Their horses are just so tough and they suit Menangle because their is nowhere to hide.” Poster Boy is Alford’s only drive on Saturday night but he is confident about the classic chances of Kualoa (NSW Oaks) and Centenario (NSW Derby) in coming weeks.   Michael Guerin  

A Pukekohe workout last Saturday suggests punters should be careful supporting Belle Of Montana too enthusiastically in her return to racing at Alexandra Park tonight.  Because while she might even be the best three-year-old pacing filly in the country the December fillies triple crown winner could be vulnerable in tonight’s Nevele R heat.  Belle Of Montana has been one of the finds of the harness racing season, going from unheard of maiden to group one winner in three months and twice beating last season’s champion filly Princess Tiffany along the way.  She has explosive speed but faces a different challenge at barrier seven tonight in a race where she could settle close to last and main rival Chevron Supreme could lead, and trainer Barry Purdon admits that could be a problem.  “If she (Chevron Supreme) is in front and we are well back and having to make our own luck, over 1700m that can be very tricky,” says Purdon, who also has Havtime in the race.  “I couldn’t be happier with my fillies and we know how good Belle Of Montana has been but Chevron Supreme could be hard to catch if she was able to lead and it is always hard when your horse has had a bit of a break from racing and then they have to chase.”  Chevron Supreme’s motor is not in doubt but her attitude sometimes has been but she was on her best behaviour during last Saturday’s workout when she led, trailed and then blazed over her last 400m in 26.6 to easily beat Belle Of Montana, who wasn’t knocked around in second place.  So punters would want close to $2 to be getting value about Belle Of Montana winning tonight from her draw. Purdon also expects a good performance from Mach Shard in race two tonight in which he comes in well under the handicaps conditions and a return to his best form would make him very hard to beat.  Meanwhile, a change of plans for unbeaten three-year-old Ultimate Sniper is a win for Alexandra Park and a loss for Menangle.  The Sires’ Stakes and Sales Series winner was going to head to the NSW Derby on March 2 but will now not make that trip because of a change of travel schedules so he will instead be aimed at the Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 8.  So he will effectively swap places with stablemate I’m Anothermasterpiece, who was to have returned from Australia for the Northern Derby but will instead stay there and take in the NSW Derby. Michael Guerin

HARNESS racing’s man of the moment has good news and bad news for punters.  The good news from trainer Kevin Pizzuto is his superstar pacer Tiger Tara may not be headed for retirement at the end of the season as he has suggested.  The bad news is Pizzuto can’t shed any light on which one of his two market dominators will win tomorrow night’s $100,000 Ave Technologies Newcastle Mile.  The Newcastle dash for cash has had a huge stakes boost and is now an automatic qualifying race for harness racing’s most important event, the $1million Miracle Mile at Menangle on March 2.  While Tiger Tara is the undoubted poster boy of pacing and star of Pizzuto’s team his stablemates Majordan and Picard are also in career best form and give him a mighty one-two punch in tomorrow night’s sprint.  But Pizzuto, rarely one to be short of an opinion, says he can’t split the pair.  “There is nothing between them because Picard is flying,” he offers.  “A lot will depend on who begins best and gets the lead, which is how they both race best.  “But for punters I can’t split them.” That is testament to how far Picard has come in recent weeks as Majordan is the Newcastle track record holder after pacing 1:51.4 to win this race last season by 20m, albeit when it was worth a lot less and run in May.  He was surprisingly caught by a race rival tomorrow night in Maximan in the closing stages of their clash at Menangle last Saturday night but that was after a blistering early 400m from a wide draw to reach the lead.  Tomorrow night Majordan looks more likely to lead easily and then dictate the race and he has already shortened into $1.50 with the TAB as Picard drifted to $3, with the rivals that settle behind the pair likely to need to smash the clock to threaten them.  If Picard does win and is automatically invited into the Miracle Mile, Pizzuto will have to choose between starting in it or the Chariots of Fire at Menangle on Saturday week as he can’t accept the Miracle Mile invite and start in another race beforehand. Meanwhile, Pizzuto says Tiger Tara, who is sweeping all before him this season, could race on next term.  “I said the other day when I was all pumped up that I was going to retire him next season but I reckon I might have another crack at the NZ Cup.  “So that decision definitely isn’t confirmed yet. I just got a bit carried away.”   Michael Guerin

There was one question on everybody's lips after Tiger Tara destroyed his rivals in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton. And it is the question we will never be able to answer. Is this version, the enormously-improved version of Tiger Tara, as good as his now-retired nemesis Lazarus? Maybe they shouldn't be the questions people ask after Tiger Tara had completed a Melton triple crown on Saturday night, having already won the Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion there this season. Add to that his bravest of nose seconds to Thefixer in the New Zealand Cup at Addington in November and you have one of the great seasons in modern pacing history. Maybe Tiger and his army of fans should be able to bath in that glory and the promise of a Miracle Mile now a month away. But that is not the way the human brain, particularly the racing brain, usually works. Because Tiger Tara has been so dominant over most of Australasia's best pacers this season that you have to wonder is he just clearly better than he was in the last two seasons when Kiwi champ Lazarus would routinely thrash him. Yes, Tiger Tara scored victories over Lazarus in lead-up races to more serious targets, but the stats are stacked unarguably in Lazarus's favour before he was sold to the States last year and subsequently retired one of the fastest milers ever. A brief stat check: Lazarus beat Tiger Tara in one New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths, by five in another. And last season when Tiger Tara led in both the Inter Dominion and the Hunter Cup, Lazarus sat parked, covering up to 20m more and destroyed him. So there can be no argument that Lazarus was a better horse than Tiger Tara. But if Laz had stuck around and Tiger Tara has improved as much as his times suggest, would their rivalry still be as one-sided? Driver Todd McCarthy, still buzzing from his record spin around Melton, stopped short of saying the tables would be turned in the race we will never see. "I have no doubts Tiger has improved, he has just kept getting better," says McCarthy. "And Kevin [Pizzuto] has learned about the horse too and maybe trains him differently for the lead-up races now than he used to. "So he is definitely better. But beating Lazarus regularly, I am not sure about that. "But I wish Laz was still racing down here because it would be special to watch them go at it now." With times all but irrelevant as a class guide in harness racing these days, it is hard to fathom that Tiger Tara has improved enough to be considered in the same class at Lazarus had the latter held his form this season. And there is a reality racing promoters never like to admit even though they whisper about it in secret: that this open class crop isn't that good. Shorn of an injured Chicago Bull and with New Zealand's best pacer Turn It Up, who isn't ready for the Grand Circuit yet, maybe Tiger Tara is beating up good but not great open class rivals. The possible exception to that is Thefixer, who was poor by his standards after a hard trip on Saturday night. But he did still beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, albeit with a far easier trip. So it might be unfair to pit 2019 Tiger Tara against 2017 and 2018 Lazarus. But the gut, the eye and their overall strike rates suggest that as special as Tiger Tara is now, his deeds also serve to remind us how truly great Lazarus was.   Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of New Zealand Herald

In racing, your enemy can very quickly become your friend. Which is just as well for Steven Reid and Star Galleria heading into tonight’s $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup at Tabcorp Park Melton, because if they have any chance of winning they might need some help from those enemies. Star Galleria is the speed freak New Zealand pacer who looked like he could be anything back in spring until a moderate campaign saw him diagnosed with an entrapped epiglottis. Since that was operated on Star Galleria has rediscovered his turbo booster, even giving Wrappers Delight a fair start and a beating at Melton last Saturday. That suggested he could win tonight’s great race until the barrier draw suggested he couldn’t. Star Galleria has drawn three on the second line, not a killer blow in itself but the real problem is Inter Dominion champion Tiger Tara drew barrier three, from where he should lead and play catch me if you can. They usually can’t. Sitting on Tiger Tara’s back Star Galleria might have the speed to slingshot a vulnerable version. From the second line he will need help. Enter, the enemy. Actually, two of them. They are Thefixer and Cruz Bromac from the Purdon-Rasmussen stable and, quite incredibly, the last eight times Star Galleria has been beaten the race has been won by a Purdon-Rasmussen horse. But, tonight, they might be his only hope, because all three are likely to settle back and move in the middle stages. “I think that is our best chance, rather than trying to punch through at the start on the back of Tiger Tara,” Reid said. “In those big staying races being out of the early rush can often be a good thing, but if Tiger Tara runs straight to the front we could all be in trouble. “So I hope there is some pressure early and then the Kiwis all move together. Maybe then, if we get the right sit, we have a chance, because I couldn’t be happier with my horse.” Thefixer beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, but that was when he hugged the marker pegs and the Tiger had to come wide. Tonight the horseshoe is very much on the other hoof. Unless Group 1 fever strikes a couple of the drivers or Tiger Tara performs below his best, the result might be different too.   Michael Guerin

There is life in the old girl yet.  That is co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen’s view as Dream About Me returns to mares company at Addigton tonight even though she faces a far worse draw than younger, and maybe faster, stablemate Elle Mac.  The pair were two of the stars of the recent Auckland Cup meeting but ended on vastly different notes, Dream About Me below her best in the Auckland Cup the same night Elle Mac set a new national record for 1700m after sitting wide the entire race.  Before that Dream About Me had beaten Elle Mac twice fair and square in mares races at The Park and back to their own sex at Addington tonight, Rasmussen slightly favours Dream About Me again. “I think she has been working well and back at home I think she might have a slight advantage over Elle,” says Rasmussen.  “I know Elle has the better draw but Dream About Me can work in her races. But they are both ready to go well.”  Rasmussen is in Victoria where she will partner Thefixer on what could be a mission impossible in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton tomorrow night.  While he was brilliant in the Ballarat Cup two weeks ago both he and stablemate Cruz Bromac, along with fellow Kiwi pacer Star Galleria, start from the second line while Tiger Tara is drawn to lead from barrier three in the 2760m mobile.“If Tiger Tara leads and races up to his best form this season we might be running for second and third,” suggests Rasmussen.  “We are really happy with our pair but at his best, when he is in front, Tiger is very very hard to beat, as we saw in the Inter Dominion final.”  But all hope is not lost.  “There are a couple of times this season when he (Tiger Tara) hasn’t raced up to that form and that is what we have to hope for on Saturday night — he doesn’t go as good as he can and we get some luck.”  The All Stars also have a strong four-year-old at Menangle in Sydney, where they expect big improvement from last season’s best three-year-old Chase Auckland in an M0 race.  He blew out when fresh up for a long time last Saturday but has worked better since show looks a far better chance tomorrow night while Ashley Locaz looks set to guarantee himself a place in the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire on February 16 by winning A$50,000 Hondo Grattan.  “He might even be our best chance in the Chariots of Fire because he is flying at the moment.” Michael Guerin

Kiwi trainer Steven Reid isn’t letting the cold hard facts of the barrier draw for Saturday’s Hunter Cup dent his confidence.  Because as Reid sees it, last Saturday showed him a good draw can quickly become a bad one and vice versa.  Reid has Star Galleria in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and Utmost Delight in the A$30,000 Pure Steel at Melton this Saturday.  Both have tricky draws, with Star Galleria drawn the second line and Utmost Delight wide on the front in a small field.  But while Utmost Delight has a class edge on many of her rivals, Star Galleria not only faces the might of the All Stars but the even more unenviable task of giving Tiger Tara a start as he has drawn seemingly perfectly at barrier three over the 2760m mobile.  “That doesn’t look good, especially if Tiger Tara is at his best,” says Reid.  “But often in big races what can seem a good draw can be a bad one and vice versa.  “Last Saturday I thought we had a good draw with Utmost Delight in the Ladyship Cup and she ended up sitting parked in a 1:51 mile rate for the 1720m and the horse who won (Carla’s Pixel) came from the second line. “So I am not going to let the draw bother us too much because the horse is very, very well and we have Tony (Herlihy).  “Sure, Tiger Tara might be too good on his best form but first he has to turn up in that form and even then I just hope there is some early pressure and we can come into the race later.”That looks likely as the All Stars pair of Thefixer and Cruz Bromac are also drawn the second line either side of Star Galleria and if the trio settle back they could all move together.  Whether that is good enough to sit parked or one-one and come from behind Tiger Tara is what we will all find out. “The good news is I couldn’t be happier with my horses,” says Reid.  “The heat hasn’t affected them at all and they seem right at the top of their game.  “Maybe Star can’t win from that draw against Tiger Tara but funny things can happen in big races.”Reid is far more confident with Utmost Delight as she takes on a mixed bunch of free-for-allers in the Pure Steel.  “She was good last week after sitting parked but I am sure she will be even better this week.  “She has really bounced out of the run well and I think she will race very close to her peak.” All going well after Saturday night the Reid pair will head to Menangle for the Miracle Mile meeting, where Utmost Delight will target the Ladyship Mile.   Michael Guerin

Clint Ford didn’t drive a winner last season.  So by his own standards the Canterbury part-timer is having a massive season, having reined home four winners this term, albeit all behind the same horse, trotting muscle man Marcoola.  So when Ford rolls onto Melton behind Marcoola for Saturday night’s A$250,000 Great Southern Star, with the Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley holding all the ace against him, he could have every reason to be intimidated.  But Ford, who owns an excavation company and simply drives horses for the fun of it, has a plan. He just isn’t telling anybody what it is.  “Sure, Tornado Valley has all the advantages but we have the horse to give him a fright,” says Ford, who father Ken officially trains Marcoola. “He (Tornado Valley) has the gate speed, is on his home track, being trained out of his own stable whereas we have come all this way and probably have to give him a start to beat him.  “But our horse is well and we all know how good he can go. So we in are for the fight. And I have watched some videos of the opposition so I have a wee bit of a plan.” The best version of Marcoola, the one who demolished his Dominion rivals at Addington in November, would even have a chance of sitting parked outside Tornado Valley, at least for the last lap and beating him. But this whole travelling horses, driving against the Gavin Langs and Chris Alfords of the world thing, is a bit new to Ford.  So if Marcoola is going to prove he is the best trotter in Australasia he is going to have to do it the hard way.  The race also has fellow Kiwi trot stars Speeding Spur and Temporale (both poorly drawn) on a night with a huge New Zealand presence.  The most likely New Zealand winner is I’m Another Masterpiece, who is drawn to lead the A$200,000 Victoria Derby and should win.  And the Kiwi four-year-olds I’m Pats Delight and Spankem should dominate the A$100,000 Bonanza.  But the Steven Reid-trained pair of Star Galleria (Casey Classic) and Utmost Delight (A$100k Ladyship Cup) both face gate speed dilemmas in their respective races.  They are the best horses in their sprint events and while seemingly well draw they both have gate speed horses determined to lead drawn inside them. “I am really happy with where they are both at but one, or both, might have to sit parked to try and win,” admitted Reid.   by Michael Guerin    

Don’t be fooled into thinking a change of drivers signals On The Cards as the clear horse to beat in the $50,000 JLT Futurity at Cambridge tonight.  Because while top horseman Zac Butcher hopes he has pulled the right rein he can’t be sure.  Butcher has been the long-time driver for Jack’s Legend, the former NZ Cup runner-up to Lazarus who was a sound fourth in the Auckland Cup two starts ago.  Back in a moderate four and five-year-old race he surely looks the horse to beat, especially as the small field could see him use his gate speed.  But Butcher will partner the less-credentialed Barry Purdon stablemate On The Cards, who has yet to mix it at the open class group company that Jack’s Legend has. Scott Phelan will partner Jack’s Legend.  “Ultimately the driver’s decision was up to Barry but, given the choice, I probably would have chosen On The Cards.  “Jack’s Legend is very fast, faster than On The Cards, but I thought On The Cards was super running second to Elle Mac in that 1:51 mile rate for 1700m last start.  “I could be wrong and either of them could win without surprising me but I am happy to be on On The Cards.”  Butcher admits Jack’s Legend may have more gate speed than On The Cards and could jump in front of him at the start and that, coupled with the small field being dominated by two stables (Purdon and Steve Telfer) could make for a tactical affair.  The race almost feels like an afterthought at the end of a busy northern summer but at $50,000 with group two status it is going to be a profitable afterthought for somebody.  It is also a leg of the $50,000 Pick6, with a jackpot from last week making this week’s pool more attractive than some of the lukewarm Thursday night Pick6 offerings. That starts on race five where the draw of Trojan Banner (1) and the talent of Eastanbull (11) suggest you only need that pair on your ticket.  The second leg has a hot favourite in Cowgirls N Angels (2) and her only real danger looks to be Phil Bromac (7). The third leg is a horror show that you could make a case for taking the field before the Futurity as the fourth leg.  Rock N Shard (5) is favoured over Afortunado (4) and Chosen Major (1) in the fifth leg while the trot always requires a few in the last leg and if you get that far you will want at least Malabar Spur (2), Caitlin’s Surprise (4), Grenado (5), Primus Inter Paris (6) and Luck Of The Moment (7).   Michael Guerin

Kiwi horseman Clint Ford was too angry to enjoy the fact his trotting star drew well in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star on Saturday.  Because he believes he and father Ken have been robbed of having two horses in the group one race at Melton on Saturday night and it is hard to argue with him.  Ford is the unofficial trainer and driver of Marcoola and took him to Australia for Saturday’s race along with stablemate Amaretto Sun.  But he was stunned on Tuesday morning when Harness Racing Victoria officials rang to inform him Amaretto Sun was only first emergency for the Great Southern Star and will need a scratching to make the field.  “I couldn’t believe it,” says Ford.  “I went online as soon as I could to look at what got in before him but the noms were taken down.  “But now I have seen the field I am sure he should be in there in front of at least three or four of the others.  “So I was pretty annoyed and all we can do now is hope for a scratching.”  Ford’s annoyance is understandable as 14 months ago Amaretto Sun won Australasia’s equal richest trotting race the Dominion at Addington, arguably the strongest trotting race in the Southern Hemisphere.  He suffered from soreness soon after and raced only twice more last season then struggled upon his return this season before bouncing back to form with a win in the Green Mile at Methven and more importantly a third in the group two Lyell Creek at Alexandra Park last.  But that has been rated inferior form to Victorian locals like Pizza Queen and Dance Craze, who have never won a major open class race, and while recent winners they were in inferior Victorian trot fields away from GSS favourite Tornado Valley and the Inter Dominions.  While Marcoola’s draw at barrier three for the Great Southern Star looks good the major problem is local champ and brilliant beginner Tornado Valley being drawn two, from where he looks a certain leader and clearly the horse to beat.  The news was a lot better for a host of other Kiwi reps, none more so than Another Masterpiece who looks to have the A$200,000 Victoria Derby at his mercy.  He has drawn to find the front and after an effortless heat win at Ballarat last Saturday is rated a $1.65 chance by Aussie bookies to win the classic.  Pat’s Delight has barrier two in the A$100,000 Bonanza, a big advantage over fellow NZ pacer Spankem, who has drawn the outside of the front line.  And Pukekohe trainer Steven Reid has fared well with Star Galleria (barrier three in the pacing free-for-all) and Utmost Delight (barrier four) in the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup.  Tony Herlihy, who will be at Melton to partner Temporale in the Great Southern Star, will drive Star Galleria while Greg Sugars has been engaged for Utmost Delight.   Michael Guerin

At first glance Raptors Flight looks to be one of the greatest downgraders of the harness racing season at Alexandra Park tonight.  But even though he drops back from an Auckland Cup to an intermediate grade race that doesn’t make the five-year-old the certainty it may suggest.  The Barry Purdon-trained pacer has taken on Turn It Up and some of the best horses in the country his last two starts, far from disgracing himself with a seventh and a ninth in the Franklin and Auckland Cups.  He sneaks into tonight’s main pace with the concession claim of junior driver Nathan Delany and while he is down enormously in class, these days that often doesn’t matter as much as the run you get at Alexandra Park.  The reality is even two-win horses can break the once daunting 2:40 for 2200m mobile, with a race rival tonight in American Empress pacing 2:37.8 last start winning on New Years Eve.   So if Raptors Flight gets back off the speed and a rival like American Empress can let loose with a sub 2:40 time tonight then any horse, even one who has been racing the elite, is going to struggle to come wide and win.  “He definitely has a chance because he is a nice horse but these type of races can be tough because they can all run good time these days,” says trainer Purdon.  That suggests American Empress might actually be the better bet in a race where another down in grade, Check In, also claims and like Raptors Flight could win with the right run.  Earlier in the night Purdon has one of the favourites in Pearl Harbour in the first fillies heat of the Young Guns series and he admits it is hard to line up the form.  “She has gone some good workouts and has the ability to win it is hard to know what to expect from the others with them all on debut,” says Purdon.  American Empress’s trainer Jeremy Young could be the trainer to follow tonight as not only does he has have her but two other winning chances in The Stunning Nun (race seven) and Best Western (race eight).  The last race should see a continuation of one of the trends of the season so far with three-year-old trotters too slick for their older rivals, with Vatican Hill, Tricky Ric and Fortunato all three-year-olds who look better than maiden grade.   Michael Guerin

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