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

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

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

Nathan Purdon has some bad news for his Dad. But that same news that should make favourite punters feels far more comfortable heading into the first group one of the New Zealand season at Alexandra Park tonight. Nathan co-trains red hot favourite Krug in the $140,000 Sires’ Stakes Final, which is actually the two-year-old final carried over from last season when it was postponed in May because of lockdown. Krug’s grip in the race has only improved since as he has gone from strength to strength and has drawn the front line in tonight’s 1700m sprint in which he meets a remarkable seven horses trained by Nathan’s father Mark. While champion trainer Mark has the numbers on his side, Nathan has the firepower to fight them off and says Krug is the best he has been all campaign, daunting for his rivals considering he is unbeaten in four starts since returning. The most telling of those wins came at Addington two starts ago when Krug crossed a recalcitrant It’s All About Faith, the best of the Purdon-Rasmussen youngsters, at the start and easily held him out to win a heat of this series. As good as that was, Nathan says his stable star is better now. Much better. “I wasn’t that confident that night because he had had some issues,” he admits. “And even when he won up here (Alex Park) last start he wasn’t screwed down because he had travelled up that week and was still settling in. “But he is right at his peak now. He has settled in and that has allowed me to train him how I want and his work on Wednesday was very good.” Krug has such high gate speed he is expected to lead from barrier six but the biggest concern may be how hard those inside him fight for the treasured spot on his back, with a hot early tempo potentially leaving them vulnerable to It’s All About Faith, who is by far the best of the All Star’s seven reps. But it would take something special and a new career high from It’s All About Faith to beat Krug unless things get really silly at the front end of the field. American Dealer looks the value place option as he has the gate speed and respect to potentially secure an early lead he would most likely gift to Krug while Nevada has been solid with no luck in his last three starts and appeals as the one most likely to add value to the trifecta. While Krug has been push button for Nathan Purdon, stablemate Fabrizio has been anything but yet the young trainer thinks a trick he learned watching the gallops on television recently might help. Fabrizio burned punters by refusing to go away last start and has a penchant for rearing when not in the mood so Purdon has placed a shadow roll above the four-year-old’s eyes, rather than where they are usually placed further down the nose. “I saw a galloper with it like that on TV recently and they explained it was to stop him rearing up because it can’t see what is above it,” he explains. “We have fitted one to his bridle and he hasn’t reared up since so I am hoping that helps him behave this week.” The best version of Fabrizio can beat former Auckland Cup placegetters Triple Eight and Star Galleria as the latter pair face 35m handicaps in the open pace, their backmarks meaning mid-race moves to drag them into the race will be crucial.   By Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Mark Purdon is adamant the setback to Self Assured and Spankem that will see them miss Oamaru on Sunday won’t affect their New Zealand Cup chances. The glamour pair, winners of an Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile respectively, were both taken out of Sunday’s Hannon Memorial because of minor hoof issues. Purdon says they are suffering from the bottom of the hooves being sore after one of his tracks has started to become too abrasive recently. “They hadn’t been bad but Nat (co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen) worked Self Assured on Wednesday and said he didn’t feel perfect and I have had some days like that lately with Spankem,” explains Purdon. “So we got vet in and had them checked out, including having some x-rays to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong. There isn’t, it is just the track wearing away at the sole of their hooves and we would hate to go down there and race them when they were more vulnerable to getting a puncture wound or something.” Purdon says the stable has spent over $10,000 on rubber shavings to go on the track to make it more forgiving to address the problem. “As for the horses they miss this week but it won’t affect their New Zealand Cup preps because we will out pads on their feet until they are back to normal and they can race like that no issues. “So they will head to the next Addington open class race in a few weeks.” The scratching of the Purdon/Rasmussen pair still leaves the Hannon with a strong line-up but now with Classie Brigade as the warm favourite.   By Michael Guerin

Princess Tiffany’s battles with the boys appear over for now And that will see the high-class mare jump on a plane to Victoria in a few weeks so she can race her own sex more regularly. She isn’t the only All Stars big name heading that way either, with Another Masterpiece also crossing the Tasman. Co-trainer Mark Purdon, after consulting with Princess Tiffany’s owners, has decided Victoria is the best place for the five-year-old after another brave but almost fruitless performance at Addington last Friday night. After being slow away Princess Tiffany did a huge job to finish fifth but showed once again that she is not placed to her best advantage against the older iron men of pacing. In fact, in a 32-start career that has resulted in 18 wins and 9 placings, she has never beaten the boys in a big race. “It is just too hard for her having to race these very good open class horses every week,” says Purdon. “It would be ok if there was a mares race every month but there isn’t and she only gets to race her own sex three or four times a year here. “So she can head to Victoria where they have three mares races for her next month, including the Queen of the Pacific. “She will leave in two weeks and join Dean Braun and we will decide after those races whether she stays there longer or comes back.” Princess Tiffany could well return as she would have two mares races including the Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park in December and two more at Addington in the New Year. With a sub 1:50 time next to her name already, recorded at Menangle in February, the pressure is off her to return there again, even though the Ladyship Mile could be a big incentive. Another Masterpiece is somewhat in the same boat at Princess Tiffany, which is why he will find himself heading the same way. He was fourth behind Classie Brigade at Addington last Friday and is always a place chance at group one level without suggesting he is going to beat the likes of Self Assured or Copy That at the highest level any time soon. So he will head to Auckland this week, race at Alexandra Park on September 25 and then fly to Melbourne the week after to join the Jess Tubbs stable. That means he could be there in time for the Victoria Cup on October 10 if he was to make the hot shot field but he looks a horse who would have a myriad of options in Victoria.   Michael Guerin

The punters loss at Addington last Friday will be Oamaru’s gain for the Hannon Memorial this Sunday. Because that is where New Zealand Cup favourite Self Assured heads to test out how he enjoys being off the unruly for the first time. The Auckland Cup winner cost punters a fortune when he galloped away in the Avon City Ford New Brighton Cup at Addington last Friday, losing all chance. It was the third time in a row he had missed away but was far worse than the first two, never getting into the race. Trainer Mark Purdon immediately put the five year-old on the unruly and sees whether he stays there or not for the New Zealand Cup in November will depend on his manners in coming starts. “He really galloped quite badly the other day so I think it is the best thing for now,” said Purdon. “But we don’t need to panic. He has three or four starts before the Cup and we can see how he is going away before we make a decision on whether he stays there.” The first of those will be the Hannon this Sunday, a race Self Assured was initially set to bypass but he will now contest since he didn’t have a race last Friday. That means he will clash with returning stablemate Spankem but one-time favourite Princess Tiffany is less likely to go there and her entire New Zealand Cup campaign could be in doubt. She has been brave but struggling against the boys and looks better off against her own sex than in a hard 3200m on Cup Day. But if Self Assured remains on the unruly that could affect his NZ Cup hopes as he is as good as a 10m handicap he could potentially end up giving away to the likes of Copy That and Spankem. Meanwhile, Purdon is happy with how second favourite It’s All About Faith has travelled north for the Sires’ Stakes Final at Alexandra Park this Friday, with today’s draw crucial for he and Krug because if either drew the second line that would almost certainly hand the other favouritism.   Michael Guerin

The All Stars' massive team for the upcoming age group features at Alexandra Park has lost a few members. But that could still see them with seven reps in the $140,000 Sires’ Stakes Final to take on Krug on Friday week. The race is actually the two-year-old final delayed from last May because of Covid-19 ,as it the first running of a Harness Millions to be run with much the same field the following week. The All Stars attack is headlined by second favourite It’s All About Faith, who could even start favourite if he draws the front line and Krug is forced to start off the second line. But stablemates Pace N Pride, Shan Noble and First Class are among those who won’t be there. “First Class had a few issues but we got them checked out and he seemed fine then today (Wednesday) we think he had a minor colic attack,” said Mark Purdon. “So he definitely won’t be there next week while Shan Noble has had 10 days off and will be set for the three-year-old Sires’ Stakes heats down here.” But joining It’s All About Faith in the truck north today was Rock Legend and that pair will join Bettor Call Me, Nevada, Stag Party , Delightful Dude and possibly even Aladdin in the Sires’ Stakes, with several of those ranked highly now confirmed not to start. Meanwhile the stable’s forgotten superstar Spankem pleased Purdon at the Rangiora workouts on Wednesday pacing 2:28.6 for the 2000m mobile and his last 800m in 56.5 in his second workout back since a suspected hairline fracture in a leg ruled him out of last season after he finished second in the New Zealand Cup. “He has come up really well and having been on the water walker at Matamata for much of the winter he is quite forward,” said Purdon. “So he will head to Oamaru fresh up next Sunday for the Hannon.” Purdon has re-affirmed the fact Inter Dominion champion Ultimate Sniper won’t be heading to the IRT New Zealand Cup and won’t even be nominated.   Michael Guerin

Your stable star returning from a big race with a heart complaint, even a minor one, is rarely a laughing matter. But once trainer Greg Hope established A G’s White Socks had taken no harm from an atrial fibrillation in his comeback race at Addington two weeks ago, he admits to seeing the funny side. In a racing stories too odd to make up, A G’s White Socks suffered the relatively common atrial fibrillation in the feature race at Addington and had to be pulled up by driver Ricky May. The reason that was so remarkable is because the last time May had driven A G’s White Socks in a race May all but died from a far more serious and sudden heart issue which left him needing an emergency helicopter ride and an operation. That was at Omakau on January 2 so the last two times the southern pair have joined forces for a race it has been a disaster. Now May and A G’s White Socks are both fine, trainer Hope admits everybody has seen the funny side. “You wouldn’t believe it could happen first to Ricky and then to the horse, even though they are different things,” said Hope. “Once we all go over the shock of it all we have given Ricky a bit of a hard time about it all in good fun. I have been telling him I hope the trainer isn’t next.” Hope says the vets who examined A G’s White Socks after the Addington incident said they are seeing more atrial fibrillations in horses, with plenty of theories as to why, including the new spring grass. A lot of horses have suffered a fibrillation in races and never been affected by it again and Hope expects that to be the case when A G’s White Socks and May unite for third time lucky in the Avon City Ford Cup at Addington this Friday. “I think he will be fine but I can’t see him being at his peak fitness because he was obviously pulled out of that race and then missed three days work while we had him diagnosed,” said Hope. “So he is very much on the way up.” A G’s White Socks meets red hot New Zealand Cup favourite Self Assured on Friday, with the latter again drawing an inside barrier at two, which may be less than ideal considering his standing start manners so far this season. Self Assured is a $1.85 favourite to win the $540,000 IRT NZ Cup at Addington on November 10, with northerner Copy That now $3.40 after his stunning Alexandra Park display last Thursday. The pair are likely to meet for the first time in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on October 26. Hope and wife Nina also have Matua Tana in a star-studded Alabar Ordeal Cup this Friday and he pleased them at the Methven workouts on the weekend. “He has got the motor to run with these horses but his manners need to keep improving.”   Michael Guerin

Trainer Ray Green has some good news about his great horse. Because southern fans may not have to wait as long as they thought to see the first clash of pacing two excitement machines Copy That and Self Assured. Copy That was even more dazzling winning at Alexandra Park on Thursday night than he has been so far this campaign, overcoming being roughed up early to zoom clear of some serious horses at the top of the straight. The four-year-old looked certain to be vulnerable after an early burn with Inter Dominion runner-up Mach Shard saw them record one of the fastest opening 600m of a 2200m mobile at Alexandra Park. But while Mach Shard dropped out, Copy That exploded clear to win in a stunningly fast 2:36.4, a 1:54.5 mile rate with a 27.8 last quarter and driver Maurice McKendry certain he could have gone faster. “Maurice said if he had given him a tap with the whip he could have won by two or three lengths more,” said trainer Green. Copy That still put two and a half lengths on Check In and Dance Time, both of who were good and definitely better than their higher-rated stablemate Triple Eight. “I was happy with two of my three but I still think Triple Eight can go better,” said trainer Steve Telfer. But while a lot can change on the road to the New Zealand Cup it is getting harder and harder to see how any of Copy That’s northern opponents will be coming from behind him to beat him any time soon. He has developed real toughness to go with his massive motor and looks an all-round pacer now with just some more distances races needed to prove his credentials. The son of American Ideal will now have nearly three weeks away from the races before the Spring Cup and then Green says he could head south to aim at the Ashburton Flying Stakes it what would, all going well, be his first clash with Cup favourite Self Assured. “I’d like to get him to Ashburton then the Cup trial,” says Green. The possibility of the two stars, unbeaten this season, clashing in the Flying Stakes would put the race back to what has been for much of the last 20 years, the race that decides favouritism for the New Zealand Cup. Self Assured undoubtedly deserves that honour at the moment but if Copy That can get in front of him in any race, even the New Zealand Cup, he is going to take an enormous amount of running down. Meanwhile, Thursday night was a successful one for Green with American Dealer and Captain Nemo into the Sires’ Stakes Final on September 18 while Tommy Lincoln recorded a career best 2:38.4 to down some talented intermediate grade rivals.   Michael Guerin

The two darlings of the New Zealand open class ranks are still on target for a shot at the New Zealand Cup even if beating the boys is looking harder by the week. Brothers Barry Purdon with Belle Of Montana and Mark Purdon with Princess Tiffany have confirmed the two arch rivals of the mares ranks are still on the New Zealand Cup path even if they are unloved in the market. Belle Of Montana is rated a $26 chance to win Cup at Addington on November 10 while oddly Princess Tiffany, who has been brave and consistent in her runs this campaign behind Self Assured isn’t actually listed in the TAB market. “We are definitely still looking at the Cup with her,” said Barry Purdon of Belle Of Montana, who races Copy That in the free-for-all at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. “There aren’t really a lot of other options for mares and I still think she is up to it. “She was good fresh-up behind Copy That and then galloped from her first stand last start but plenty of them do that the first time they try a stand. “So we will keeping pushing toward the Cup but if for any reason things changed and I thought she wasn’t to it, or if Dean (Shannon, owner) didn’t want her there then she could change tact. “But it is still her aim at this stage.” Purdon also has Mach Shard in the feature tomorrow night but has scratched On The Cards but all three remain on target for the Cup. Mark Purdon says he has been happy with Princess Tiffany’s form and while Self Assured has been dominant so far the mare looks as good as the remainder we have seen in the South so far. “Again, there aren’t any mares races to aim her at and the owners are keen to have a Cup starter so while it isn’t easy for mares at this level she is heading that way,” says Mark. Last season’s Cup runner-up Spankem was supposed to return to the workouts for the All Stars yesterday but will instead trial today (Wednesday) after yesterday’s were cancelled. The stable will possibly split their open class team soon, with some to head to the Avon City Ford New Brighton Cup at Addington on September 11 while two others could head to the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru nine days later. Most importantly for futures punters, Inter Dominion champion Ultimate Sniper is still not being aimed at the Cup and is very unlikely to race during Cup week but last season’s champion filly Amazing Dream will be at Addington that week all going well “She will come back from Queensland soon and contest a fillies heat at Alexandra Park in October to try and qualified for that delayed fillies final on Cup day.” But One Change, who opened his Australian campaign with a win last week, is likely to stay in Queensland longer and not return to New Zealand for Cup time.   Michael Guerin

New Zealand’s most exciting young pacer will make a surprise return to Alexandra Park this week but there will be almost nobody there to see him. Because even with the entire country at Covid alert Level 2 from yesterday racing at the north’s two huge meetings this week will go ahead without crowds or owners. Both Alexandra Park and Te Rapa have confirmed their meetings will be held behind closed doors even though they will host some of New Zealand’s elite horses. Alexandra Park not only sees the surprise return of Krug as well as open class star Copy That but Saturday’s meeting at Te Rapa contains the first serious race of the thoroughbred season, the group two Valachi Downs Foxbridge Plate headlined by Avantage and Julius. Alexandra Park had the option to allow owners in separate areas but with Auckland effectively at Level 2.5 they decided it was better to get safely through this week with hopefully a return to the far less restricted Level 1 not too far away. While nobody wants to see New Zealand yo-yoing up and down the alert levels that scenario is a financial nightmare for the racing industry because while racing can continue at Level 3, the sport can attract massive crowds right around the country over summer. While any Covid-19 outbreak has far more important and serious ramifications than the racing industry’s concerns, a cluster and subsequent enforcement of Level 2 or 3 would be financially disastrous for carnivals like Cup week in Christchurch or the Christmas-New Year period in Auckland. The good news is harness racing fans will have some genuine class to watch this week, albeit via the television. Copy That will be red hot to continue of his winning path to the New Zealand Cup after drawing barrier one in the 2200m free-for-all at Alexandra Park on Thursday but it is the participation of Krug at the meeting that is the most surprising. He is in the north for the $140,000 Sires’ Stakes Final in two weeks to be followed by the A$200,000 Harness Millions a week later and having brilliantly won the Sires’ Stakes heat at Addington 11 days ago he didn’t need to contest Thursday’s heat. But co-trainer Nathan Purdon has taken the opportunity to re-acquaint him with Alexandra Park even though by being a heat winner he has to start the outside of the second line. “I think this race works in well for him heading into the final in a couple of weeks,” says Purdon, the son of champion trainer Mark Purdon. Krug defied a huge betting drift to smash Its All About Faith in their Sires’ Stakes heat at Addington two weeks ago and Purdon admits he wasn’t confident he could win that race. “He had had a cold and we had eased up on his work so he definitely wasn’t at his peak,” says Purdon. “So I was surprised he could beat Its All About Faith last start but you will see a better horse this week. “With the month he has ahead of him ideally we would like to drive him with a sit but we realise because he is usually the favourite that isn’t so easily done.”   by Michael Guerin

Champion driver Blair Orange is set to be offered the drive on pacing excitement machine Copy That in the New Zealand Cup. But Victorian-based owner Merv Butterworth says that doesn’t guarantee Orange the drive behind the Cup second favourite for the remainder of the season, just when he crossed Cook Straight. Copy That has rocketed up the markets from an opening quote of $26 to be the $4.20 second elect for the Cup to be run at Addington on November 10. That has come courtesy of three impressive Alexandra Park wins this campaign when he has looked clearly the best of the notherners while Cup favourite Self Assured has looked just at dominant in the south. Maurice McKendry, one of only two New Zealand reinsmen with over 3000 career wins, has driven Copy That in all three of those wins but Butterworth, who has been an enormous investor in New Zealand harness racing, says any time Copy That races in the South Island it is Orange who gets first refusal. “My rule on this is Blair gets offered the drive in the South Island and Maurice will drive him, if he wants, in the North Island,” says Butterworth. “So the NZ Cup drive is Blair’s if he wants it.” Orange is actually the defending NZ Cup driving champ as he won the race last season on catch drive Cruz Bromac, who is still aiming to return from Victoria for the Cup again this year. But Orange says he will drive Copy That all things being equal. “He is the horse on the rise and has a big future ahead of him so I’d love to drive him,” says Orange. “People keep telling me I will be on him but I haven’t actually heard anything official.” Well, he has now. If Copy That makes it south Orange might not have long to get re-acquainted with him as trainer Ray Green has suggested he may keep the four-year-old in the north as long as possible pre-Cup, something made possible by solid feature-race field size numbers at Alexandra Park. That could mean a run in the Cup trial a week before the great race may be the only time Orange and the South Auckland pacer partner up before the Cup. Copy That would have two shots at group one glory during Cup week, the other being the NZ Free-For-All three days after the Cup and should he win either race that would surely test Butterworth’s loyalty to his different drivers for different islands policy as it would be hard to kick off your New Zealand Cup winning driver. If he does stick to that policy though McKendry has races like the Auckland Cup, Taylor Mile, Messenger and even the Jewels, still likely to be held at Cambridge next June, to potentially look forward to in the north. The southern Cup runners clash again at Addington this Friday with Self Assured odds on but at least with some new opposition in A G’s White Socks and southern speedster Spirit Of St Louis to add to the mix. Inter Dominion Trotting champion Winterfell has returned south after his handicaps in the north were deemed to be too prohibitive and he will meet Majestic Man under mobile conditions on Friday.   by Michael Guerin

The right of owners to see their horses race live will be a key point of debate as New Zealand horse racing continues on under the two differing Covid-19 levels. But from the industry participants point of view it will be more or less racing as is, just with a few restrictions on travel. While Auckland is set to stay at Level 3 until at least 11.59pm on Sunday night there are no horse racing meeting scheduled for inside the region in that period. Alexandra Park were not programmed to race this week while the gallops meetings at Ruakaka on Wednesday has been transferred to Rotorua. So no race meetings of either equine code will be lost to the Level 3 restrictions but horse people inside the Auckland area will not be allowed to accompany horses to race meetings in the Waikato. That means horses from Pukekohe north can race at the harness meeting at Cambridge this Thursday but their trainers can’t travel with them. The differing restriction levels also means that any jockeys or harness drivers in the Auckland region can’t compete at this week’s meetings but will be able to from next week if, as expected, Auckland returns to Level 2. Owners with horses racing will be allowed to attend Thursday’s harness meeting at Cambridge where they can be easily separated from participants in the Clubhouse Cafe and Bar on track. “We did that for our Sunday meeting last week and kept the numbers below 100. We sent all the owners an email once the fields came out asking them to register to come along,” says Cambridge harness boss David Branch. But New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing will today discuss whether that is logistically possible for their club’s racing in the next 12 days. “It is easier for some clubs than others to allow owners to attend so we will work through that with them and discuss protocols,” says NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry.   by Michael Guerin

Temporale almost pulled off the most appropriate tribute to his late owner Dene Biddlecombe at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. Biddlecombe, a former director of the Auckland Trotting Club, passed away aged just 61 on Tuesday after a battle with cancer. As well as serving in the ATC board and being the former chair of the Auckland Rugby League, Biddlecombe was a passionate harness racing owner. He raced horses for over two decades but struck gold as the part-owner of Temporale, who gave him the thrill of a lifetime winning the Rowe Cup three years ago. Temporale, now trained by Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett, almost pulled off the impossible by looming up like a winner in the main trot on Thursday night before understandably peaking on his run after starting off a 50m handicap over 2200m. Biddlecombe, who was an energetic administrator and passionate owner, is survived by his children Kate and Mark and his funeral will be held in Auckland on Tuesday but almost certainly not open to the public because of Covid-19 restrictions.   Michael Guerin

Copy That at least partially answered perhaps the main question hanging over his New Zealand Cup chances with a brave win at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. The exceptional four-year-old gave favourite punters little reason for concern as he was good from the standing start and settled perfectly in the 2200m, gunning down leader Check In from the top of the straight. Copy That always looked like he was going to get home and had a length to spare at the line, with Star Galleria a gutsy third after a torrid run in the middle stages. Not as sharp though were four-placed Mach Shard, who was only ok after a lightning quick start to settle second while Triple Eight was beautifully driven but performed below his best in fifth. Both can be forgiven as they were second up and 2200m standing start races when the leader puts the foot down all the way can undo horses early in their prep. So from a New Zealand Cup point of view any horses beaten last night can be forgiven. But the fact Check In ran them so hard and took his rivals out of their comfort zone added to the impressive nature of Copy That’s win because this time he has to show stamina, not just raw speed as he has up the lane in his las two starts. Last night he was tractable and fast but also in for the fight and he is going to need to be that if he is going to have a realistic chance in the NZ Cup. We still don’t know if he has the stomach yet for a brutal 3200m and he was, after all, beaten in the Woodlands Derby, albeit when tactics worked against him. But driver Maurice McKendry says Copy That will stay. “He had to stay a bit tonight because we were chasing and he knew he had had a run,” says McKendry. “He had to fight to the line and while he won easily enough it wasn’t an easy race. “So I don’t think staying is going to be an issue for him.” The fact Copy That handled the standing start is also one less worry for punters and it would be an ideal NZ Cup script if he and his northern mates stayed north to create a different form line away from Self Assured and the southerners, to leave us all wondering pre-Cup. One horse who won’t be heading to the Cup is Wainui Creek, who blew the standing start as did stablemate Belle Of Montana. “She (Wainui Creek) is heading to Perth soon and she will join the Bond stable to be set for the mares races over there,” said co-trainer Scott Phelan.   Michael Guerin

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