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Cran Dalgety’s attitude to Krug drawing the outside of the front in tonight’s $200,000 Diamond Creek Farm NZ Derby is refreshingly simple. “As long as he didn’t draw the inside of the second line I was going to be happy,” says Dalgety. While some might argue barrier nine, which will become eight with the emergencies out, isn’t much better Dalgety says he has the horse power to handle it. “I see mainly positives from there,” he said. “At least out there he is master of his own destiny and he probably can’t find bad luck. So if he is good enough he can still win.” Krug has already shown he can do freakish things when in the zone as we all saw in the Northern Derby when he half bolted on Tony Herlihy but still smashed his opponents. It is a similar field tonight and key rivals like Ragazzo Mach and American Dealer have drawn the second line but there is still plenty of gate speed in B D Joe (4), It’s All About Faith (5) and Shan Noble (8) between Krug and the marker pegs which is where so many Derby winners come. Dalgety says he won’t be giving Blair Orange any driving instructions but with six horses drawn behind him on the second line he would envisage Orange won’t be pulling back. So can Krug work for maybe the first 800m and win the Derby? “I think he can because he is better than when he won the Flying Stakes two weeks ago,” says Dalgety matter of factly. “I always expected he would be because I eased off him after his Derby win up in Auckland and he was going to improve on what he did after the Flying Stakes. “But I am surprised how much he has improved. His work on Monday was at another level and he is a fair way better than he was last start.” That would suggest if Krug, and it is a huge IF, he can muscle his way to the front then this is his Derby to lose. But if he can’t that would most likely mean horses like B D Joe, It’s All About Faith or Shan Noble had got there first and their drivers were willing to roll the dice. That might cost them the race but it could also cost Krug.. and punters. The most likely sweeper would be American Dealer if the leaders play rough and hard early while Ragazzo Mach trialled on Tuesday and broke 55 seconds for his last 800m so can be forgiven his last start loss.  But so often Derby winners come from the marker pegs and two horses who could end up there are B D Joe first and then Shan Noble potentially getting the lead off the increasingly-confusing It’s All About Faith.  There is little doubt Krug is the best horse in tonight’s Derby and his draw may not matter.  But there is a reason only the elite win both our Derbys, because it is so hard to do and you almost certainly have to be an open class star of the future to complete the classic double.  Maybe Krug is.   TOP OF THE TROTS: THESE TROTTERS CAN MAKE YOU MONEY PUNTING INB NZ TONIGHT 1: Bolt Vs Son: Bolt For Brilliance (Addington R6, No.1) appears to hold the aces over Sundees Son (6) in the NZ Trotting Champs because from the one draw he has the option to lead or at least stay in front of his arch rival. The way they both trotted last start, if Bolt For Brilliance is in front and dialled in then Sundees Son will need to improve two lengths to beat him so the $2.80 bookie quote is very fair. 2: The anchor: Five Wise Men (R8, No.7) has been so dominant over this three-year-old crop this year it is hard to find a horse to beat him in the Trotting Derby. He has looked all along like he would be even better over distance so the step up to 2600m suits and it is surprising he opened at $2.30 because he will probably start in the red. 3: Manners the key: Both Gaz Man (8) and Call Me Trouble (12) could gallop in race three at Alex Park and that would ruin their chances over 2200m. But one of them, maybe both, should get it right and if they do one of them should be winning so they make sense as a split bet, probably more heavily weighted toward Call Me Trouble. 4: American Pride (Addington, R10, No.12): Needed the run fresh up and gets Mark Purdon back in the sulky tonight. Has crucial 10m advantage over the other favourites which could make the difference tactically. 5: Temporale (Alex Park, R7, No.6) may face a 20m handicap over 2200m but he only only has four rivals and he did beat Bolt For Brilliance fair and square last start. Small fields can be tricky but with any drag into the race he might be too fast for them as his handicap may really only mean settling last.   by Michael Guerin

I suddenly have the urge to go to Mildura. That is not to say I haven’t had the urge to go to Mildura before. I am told it is a lovely spot inhabited by friendly people. And I have even been invited there by the Mildura club for Cup week before, which shows either they have never met me or they are far too silly. To clarify, I won’t actually be attending Mildura Cup week 2021 because the Trans Tasman bubble thing doesn’t kick in for another week. But the key thing is part of me wants to be there. Just like part of me wanted to be in Bathurst two weeks ago. Hell, I even had some regrets I wasn’t at Wagga last Sunday and I don’t know where Wagga is. (It is in NSW, right?) And that is one of the strengths of the bigger harness racing carnivals in the more remote areas. They even get people in OTHER countries watching these regions and wanting to go there. Consider this: You ever watched Kaikoura Cup day on Sky and thought, well, that is on the bucket list? And I know people who have flown from Australia to go to the Jewels in Ashburton and Cambridge even though they couldn’t find either on a map. Just outside the town I grew up in is a place called Kumara, population 400 that can swell to 10,000 for their one annual race meeting. It's worth it, just don’t plan anything the few days after. These wonderful remote places with their funny tracks and the small country stables defending their honour against the invading big city bullies are the stuff local legends are made of. For racing (think the 'Bool) and harness racing they are a strength to be embraced and promoted, as SENTrack's Trots Life is doing this week. I have been to Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, the Arc, Sha Tin and the Melbourne Cup and they are all wonderful experiences, racing moments of awe. But the carnivals in the small town are where you feel you can reach out and touch the horses, because some times you actually can. You find yourself in bars and restaurants with the owners but also trainers and drivers, the heroes of the industry, and you might even find yourselves wanting, not for financial reasons, to win that local Cup, Crown or Nuggets (that is Kumara). Harness racing can sell that. In these days when people can’t go to Ascot or Longchamp, we can tell them how special Mildura can be. The clubs can back that with the most loved of Down Under traits, local hospitality. We can rally the local bars and ask them to adopt the visitors as these carnivals can be an escape from life because Mildura isn’t Melbourne or Melton and that is good for the soul. We should lace it into our radio and television coverage, reminding people these are places they can drive to for a holiday sometimes without leaving their state, because smaller centres feel a bit like the good old days. And if you back a winner, money won on holiday is just about the best currency in the world. So let's sell our regional carnivals. Let us remind people racing isn’t just numbers, speed maps and betting restrictions. Remind them it can still be fun, a break from normal life. Just tell them to bring the Panadol. by Michael Guerin

Matty Williamson might have a star book of drives when harness racing returns to Wyndham but they are all going to have to do things the hard way. The popular horseman will team up with huge chances in Ultimate Stride, Deus Ex, American Lightning and My Ultimate Chevron and all face either stiff handicaps or wide draws. “I have my work cut out but I have some horse power to work with,” says Williamson. He is looking forward to getting back behind Ultimate Stride even off his 40m mark in the main trot today and says the four-year-old’s manners will be a big help in his quest to return with a win. “He usually begins well and safely, which will really help,” says Williamson. “He is pretty forward and is a very good horse so has a class edge on most of these horses so I think he will be hard to beat.”Ultimate Stride’s main aim is the Jewels in June and his task today has been made enormously easier by Cracker Hill pulling out of the race. While it is a big field and only 2400m so the leaders could run hard, Ultimate Stride is high class enough to still win so the $2.10 opening odds from the TAB were very fair. Williamson is not only the driver but trainer of Deus Ex in the $15,000 MLT Wyndham Cup and while he faces a 20m backmark Williamson believes the horse to beat is right alongside him. “My fella has to be hard to beat but Memphis Tennessee will be the big danger,” says Williamson. “So I’d say Deus Ex is a good each way chance.” American Lightning is by far the best performed pacer in the three-year-old event on Thursday, having won six of his 10 starts but is an luxurious odds, with the bookies far keener on Samhara even though he is a maiden, with plenty of weight being placed on the draws over the mobile mile. It is similar in the $25,000 Kindergarten Stakes, the feature of the day where My Ultimate Chevron is not only the only race winner but the only one of the six starters to have even been to the race but he opened $6.50 because of his draw and the hype around Hayden Cullen-trained debutante Akuta. Akuta was into $1.70 after some smart trials performances but trainer Cullen says there is very little between Akuta and stablemate Bollinger, who draws barrier one and was out to $3.10 last night. “I can’t really split them and wouldn’t be surprised if either won,” says Cullen. “They both have a bit to learn but they are down here because the race acts as a qualifying heat for the Sires’ Stakes as well,” says Cullen.   by Michael Guerin

Oscar Bonavena is back and his autumn is about to get a lot busier. The horse once rated New Zealand’s best trotter returns in the $20,000 mobile mile at Addington on Saturday more than a year off the scene. The now five-year-old hasn't raced since falling flat during an Australian campaign last season after which he was found to have a bone chip in his knee. He has been given plenty of time off since but he trotted his last 800m in 56.8 to beat Cracker Hill, who resumes at Wyndham on Thursday, in a recent Ashburton trial. “We are really happy with him and Mark (Purdon) drove him last week and said he was ready to go,” says new trainer Hayden Cullen. “We almost thought of giving him another trial but with a couple of the better trotters missing this Saturday it is a good kick off point.” Oscar Bonavena may not have to take on Bolt For Brilliance, Sundees Son or Majestic Man this week but he will start from barrier six, the outside of the front line, at the very tricky Addington mobile mile start point because of the preferential draw conditions of the race. Safely through this week he has the option of the NZ Trotting Champs next week as well as a trip to Auckland for the Anzac and Rowe Cups. “Auckland is definitely looking more likely now that he has come up so well so he could be going there,” said Cullen. Oscar Bonavena has won 12 of his 19 starts here and has rare raw speed but has almost been a victim of that, with his reputation getting so big anything but a win was considered disappointing even when he stepped straight into open class. With those ranks now containing so many top class horses he should at least have the chance to be treated as an equal rather than a superstar who has to win every time.   by Michael Guerin

When Stephen Swain approached part-time Canterbury trainer Murray Alfeld and asked him to train a horse for him Alfeld had an obvious question. “Why me?” Alfeld asked. Swain’s cartage company does the baleage work for Alfeld, who has mixed training and farrier work for many years but these days only trains three horses. So to have Swain ask him to buy him a horse and train it at the sales was a shock for the now 62-year-old. “Stephen just asked me to buy him and the family a horse at the yearling sales one day and train it,” explains Alfeld. “I told him I would help and find a horse and break it in and then he could send it to any trainer he wanted but he said no, we have done a lot of work with you and we want you to train it. “He is a good guy like that, hard working, loves his rugby and wanted to do the right thing.” So Alfeld went to the sales and found a filly Swain paid $22,000 for and at Addington on Friday that filly, Aldebaran Floss won the $50,000 What The Hill NZ Trotting Oaks. In doing so she beat some of the country’s biggest trotting stables, helped in no small way by a typical Colin De Filippi drive and the ace draw. “That all helped and Colin has always been a big help to me so it is a massive thrill to win an Oaks. “It is the biggest win I have had. I have had good horses in the past like Clover Don, who won on Cup Day and had some good wins for Colin and even Robbie Holmes when they trained him because I was moving and setting up a new property. “But to win a race like this for Stephen after he was so loyal was a real thrill.” Aldebaran Floss is now qualified for the Jewels so Alfeld and Swain have a chip in the big game and a filly with speed and some breeding value. She wasn’t the only three-year-old filly to upset the punters at Addington on Friday after Life’s A Beach downed hot favourite Bettor Twist in the Nevele R Fillies heat at 61-1. Trained by Tony Barron and driven by John Morrison, Life’s A Beach was recorded her second win in 11 starts for the Woodlands Stud syndicate which also comprises elite athletes Andy Ellis, Dave Hewett, Kieran Read and Dick Tayler and she is already worth big money as a future broodmare. She is from broodmare gem Beach Parade, making her a sister to Jewels winner Partyon and dual Derby winner Line Up.   By Michael Guerin

It would be so easy to suggest Tony Herlihy’s 1000th New Zealand training winner came an hour too soon. But not to the man himself who joined the exclusive club when Lord Verde won at Alexandra Park on Friday night. He becomes just the second New Zealander to have 1000 winners as both a driver and a trainer, joining brother-in-law Mark Purdon.  Yes, Alexandra Park is Herlihy’s home track so would seem a natural fit for his milestone win but an hour later he drove of the best horses he might ever potentially train in Bolt For Brilliance to a statement win in the main trot at Addington, a far bigger stage in the scheme of Friday night’s two meetings. Herlihy caught the end of Lord Verde’s maiden win at Alexandra Park in the hands of long-time stable No.2 driver Tony Cameron on TV and says that was fitting because so much of his success comes from his staff. “They all work so hard and Tony has been with me a long time and done a great job, as has all the staff I have had over the years,” said Herlihy. “So for the team up home to get that win it sums up how important they and others have been to me over the years.” Chief of the home team and the main reason Herlihy has trained any winners at all is wife Suzanne, who is the real reason The Iceman started training when the Purdon partnership he worked for dissolved and Mark moved south. “It was Suzanne who was the one who was adamant I should train,” says Herlihy. “I was kind of thinking about freelance driving but she really pushed me to do it and supported me right from the start. So I owe her a lot for that, and of course everything else.” Herlihy jokes that father-in-law and master trainer Roy Purdon would be the most surprised person that his jovial, carefree son-in-law had trained 1000 winners here but back when he started Purdon wouldn’t have been alone in the doubter’s camp. Back then Herlihy was always laughing and relaxed, incredibly talented in the sulky but didn’t need to be organised and structured like Barry and Mark. But when he bought his first set of black colours with the white star he dialled in, and he hasn’t stopped learning since. “I had that good grounding working for some great trainers and then you learn from experience, mistakes, travel and good horses. So while I knew it was coming I am still proud to get there.” Herlihy rates Ohoka Punter (pacer) and One Over Kenny (trotter) as two of his best while he trained Sly Flyin for a while and he was a top liner. “And Bella’s Boy was one of my favourites I have trained,” said Herlihy. “I owned him with a great mate in John Seaton and he won us a lot of money back when I had none,” he offers. Bolt For Brilliance could be Herlihy’s next top horse and looked back to his best with his crushing win at Addington. “It feels like the trip has really woken him up,” says Herlihy. “He hadn’t been concentrating that well up home but he felt a lot sharper tonight like he wanted to be there. “So I think the trip away will really do him some good but I won’t race him next week I will wait for the Trotting Champs the week.” In his early 60s now Herlihy might not train long enough to get to 2000 wins but in a rare moment of introspection he feels proud of what he, his family and team have achieved. “We haven’t had many bad years and have had pretty good numbers considering we usually only train around 30." “So we have done okay.”   by Michael Guerin

Greg Hope says Friday night at Addington is when the talk stops. Hope and wife Nina take their three stable big guns to the premier meeting but as good as A G’s White Socks, Midnight Dash and Muscle Mountain are they are up against it what, on paper at least, are even better horses. A G’s White Socks faces three of the four biggest names in New Zealand pacing in Amazing Dream, Spankem and Self Assured in the $30,000 Leefield Station Wines Free-For-All while Hope’s two four-year-old trotters take on Sundees Son and Bolt For Brilliance among others in the $30,000 Lamb And Hayward Trotters Classic. The two trotters in particularly have looked top open class horses in the making but Hope says this Friday will be the test. “The talk stops now, we are going to find out how good they are,” says Hope. “We know they are both top horses who could win a really good race one day but Sundees Son is that horse already and we know how good Bolt For Brilliance is. “So it is a really top field and it will be a great guide for us heading forward.” Hope says Muscle Mountain is the more brilliant of his pair, which is why son Ben has chosen to drive him over the very in-form Midnight Dash, who Tim Williams will partner. “Midnight Dash has been going great races and I was saying to his owners the other day he could be like Quite A Moment, a horse who can race at the highest level for quite a few seasons and big up a really big race. “And Muscle Mountain has that real touch of brilliance. So we are happy with both ours but we are only getting 10m from Sundees Son so it should tell us where we stand.” The Hopes, and everybody else in harness racing, knows how good A G’s White Socks is but even in a five-horse field on Friday he worries about tactics. “They are all good horses and I am not sure whether they will go off the gate and run or settle straight into single file and just sprint home so it could be a tricky race.”  A G’s White Socks has only had two starts back this campaign and while he only ran third behind Henry Hubert last start he was clocked at 2:53 for his last 2400m on Stridemaster. “So he is going well and can be a factor in these races the next couple of meetings but he is just going to need some luck.”   By Michael Guerin

Even after two and a half months out of the raceday sulky it was like Natalie Rasmussen hadn’t even taken a break at Addington on Wednesday. And the punter’s princess has good news for her army of followers that she intends driving at most of the major meetings between now and the Jewels. Rasmussen’s first drive since Cambridge on January 8 was a winning one with a perfect steer behind debutante Franco Mac to win the first heat of the Sires’ Stakes at the afternoon meeting. Rasmussen let the son of Bettors Delight relax early, worked him off the fence and into the one-one and he was too good for brave stablemate Cosmic Major in a 1:57.5 mile rate for the 1980m. It was Rasmussen’s 10th win of the season but she put a screaming halt on that tally when she stepped away from harness racing in the most part on New Year's Day as her and partner Mark Purdon try and enjoy life a bit more. “We are having a great time,” admits Rasmussen. “It is nice to have some time away from racing and of course we miss the horses because we both love horses. “But after doing it for so long we don’t miss going to the races that much, not yet. “We have been on some nice trips around the country and got really fit, which is important cause it is hard to stay in your best shape when you are so tired from working. “I’m down to 54kgs so I could probably get a ride at Riccarton,” laughs Rasmussen. The couple have been occasionally popping out to work for new trainer Hayden Cullen but in Rasmussen’s case that is only on Saturdays but her involvement on race day at least is set to increase. “I am driving at Addington this Friday and we made that commitment to Hayden and the owners when we decided to take our break that we would help out more around the big carnivals. “There are a lot of them between now and the Jewels so while I won’t be driving every week I’d say I will be at a lot of the carnivals.” But after the Jewels the couple plan to to return to a nomadic lifestyle for at least the winter, tripping around the North Island in their new motor home. After that, no decisions are made. Rasmussen says Franco Mac’s win didn’t surprise her as he is a typical Bettors Delight, relaxed at home but capable of raising his game come race day. “He is a lovely horse as are a few other Hayden has to line up yet so the juvenile team looks to be coming to hand nicely,” said Rasmussen. Cullen also quinellaed the fillies Sires’ Stakes heat when A Bettor You and Tim Williams beat Rasmussen driving True Fantasy. As for Friday night Rasmussen will drive Amazing Dream rather than he old mate Spankem in the open pace but says there is nothing between the trio’s chances.   by Michael Guerin

What a difference a year makes. A year on from the first national lockdown because of Covid that statement will resonate with us all but from a harness racing point of view it hits home for different reasons for Cambridge boss David Branch. This time last year hundreds of hours of work that went into planning the 2020 Jewels was about to go down the drain for Branch and his team as the Jewels became just another sports event to disappear because of the pandemic. But 2021 is looking vastly different with Branch blown away by the early support for the Jewels on June 6. Tickets for the huge day only went on sale last week and already the two prime hospitality areas are half sold. “That is incredible and very heartening,” Branch told HRNZ. “We started selling to owners last Wednesday and to the public last Friday and the response has been amazing. “We thought some people might be cautious because of Covid but it has been fantastic. “We have already sold half the 350 tickets to our Mumm Marquee, which is the premium marquee off to the side of the stand and we have sold 60 per cent of the tickets to our Skyline Lounge, which is our upstairs dining venue.” Branch says with those two areas certain to sell out the club’s focus will be on trying to sell at least 1000 more general admission tickets this season than when they last held the Jewels in 2018. “We think we will be helped by moving to a Sunday,” he says. “With no Ellerslie races to compete with we are hoping we can tap into the local galloping industry and give them a chance to come to the races and have a day out where they don’t have to work. “So we still have some really cool options like the pop-up sports bar area between the stand and the Clubhouse and with the GA tickets you get a bonus by booking early. “The GA are usually $20 but if you book before the day you get the admission, plus a $5 bet and a drink.” The prospect of a Trans Tasman bubble opening up has even increased the chances of Australian tours coming to the Jewels. Well-known Victorian media personality Len Baker is planning to bring a party of at least 30 to the day if the travel bubble is fully established and operational by then. “We could love to have the Australians here to add to the atmosphere so we are really hoping that can happen.” Bottom line: If you intend going to the Jewels this season and want a seat you might want to book now.   by Michael Guerin

They are harness racing’s hottest new colours but it may not be a case of them being fast-tracked to the winner’s circle at Addington tonight. Because while the new silks for trainer Hayden Cullen have debuted this week the big guns who will wear them don’t roll out until next week. Cullen is the young trainer who has taken over almost all of the big name horses trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen when they started a training sabbatical this year but one point of controversy was Cullen keeping Purdon’s colours. That, along with the fact Purdon still occasionally drives for the stable, could have given casual harness racing punters the impression they were backing horse with the Purdon polish on them. So after prompting from Harness Racing New Zealand, Cullen has lunched his own colours this week to be worn by superstars like Self Assured and Spankem. The blue with white triangles and grey sleeves will become a huge part of the harness racing landscape for the foreseeable future and Cullen says they combine similar colours to Purdon’s famous silks but give the stable a clear and separate identity. “It is our stable now and Mark usually only pops in once a week to have a drive, even though we talk a couple of times a week,” said Cullen. “It has been a lot of hard work but it is going well and I am enjoying the challenge.” Cullen says the really big stable names Self Assured and Spankem won’t start in the new colours until next week and he takes a solid team to Addington tonight without expecting to dominate. Horses like Dream On Me (race two), Hattie and See Me Now (race three) and the debutante trotters Wy Fi and Ellaria Sand (race four) are all given chances without being spruiked by Cullen. “Dream On Me is probably the best chance of them as she comes into the right race but horses like the two-year-old trotters are here because they have had enough trials and now need to show us what they are capable of on race night.” Talented three-year-old Pace N Pride is hitting form at the right time as the New Zealand Derby is just three weeks away but he faces a tough challenge against exciting Southland pacer Ragazzo Mach in race five tonight. Pace N Pride has always been rated highly by the stable and finally managed to get his own way in front last start and was too good but the level of opposition goes up tonight. “He is in a good place, he looks healthy in the coat and is working well so he will be hard to beat, especially if he can lead,” says Cullen. But that outcome of that race may depend on how aggressive trainer-driver Nathan Williamson gets with Ragazzo Mach, who looked forward at the workouts last week and as equal favourite for the Derby might have a class edge. Later in the night the Dunn-trained pair of Henry Hubert and Steal The Show have the handicaps advantage in race six while Midnight Dash is in the right form to beatg the older trotters in race seven. View the fields for Addington tonight!   by Michael Guerin

As happy as Gerard O’Reilly was to bring up his 600th career win at Addington on Wednesday it wasn’t even the highlight of his season. Because the popular horseman admits these days his biggest thrills in harness racing come from the success of his driver daughter Sarah. O’Reilly reined win 600 when Immer Besser recorded the second win of her career for trainer Kevin Townley in race two on Wednesday. The 56-year-old O’Reilly’s drives have won over $5.7million in stakes, with 131 of those 600 wins coming in trotting races for the youngest of the five O’Reilly brothers. “I knew it was coming up (the milestone) because Matt Markham told me a while ago,” O’Reilly told HRNZ. “It is satisfying to get to that mark but these days I get the most joy out of watching Sarah’s success. “She is doing so well and we are very proud of her.” O’Reilly has plenty to be proud of himself though with his 600 wins coming at a time when he only trains half a dozen horses and he rarely drives for the biggest and most powerful stables. He rates Tiger Tara, who he drove to two group one wins before he left for his all-conquering Australian campaign, as the best horse he has driven by some margin and then Anne Franco. O’Reilly says he will keep driving and is enjoying but doesn’t think he will be sticking around in the sulky for 10 years. “I’ll go for a while longer.” His win was the highlight of a rare Addington Wednesday meeting that also saw Hayden Cullen register his first win in his new colours when Cosmic Major made a winning debut in the two-year-old race. Cullen has launched his new colours, blue with white triangles and silver grey sleeves and they will soon be a force to be reckoned with. Cosmic Major was way too good for his rivals as Cullen starts to flex the juvenile muscle in his team, the winner a son of Art Major and the former handy two and three-year-old Rozelski. Others to star on the day included Robbie Close who reined the last three winners while Brent White had two training successes.   By Michael Guerin

One of the biggest shocks of the Alexandra Park season wasn’t a shock at all if you ask the man behind it. Because not only did Andrew Neal co-train and drive Harder Than Diamonds to score a 50-1 win in race two at Alexandra Park on Friday night but he told a couple of mates to back it. Harder Than Diamonds led all the way at her second start to hold out trainer Te Amo and the late run of Alta Wiseguy in one of those races that was a punter’s nightmare, unless the punters listened to Neal, who trains the filly with his wife Lyn. “We thought she could win,” Neal told HRNZ. “She went a big race on debut when she didn’t have much luck and to be honest she needed that race, we threw her in late when the noms were left open and they needed numbers to make up the field. “So we thought she would improve and she did. So some of my mates backed her and we aren’t surprised at all.” Of course neither the Neals nor Harder Than Diamonds’s family are strangers to Alexandra Park upsets, having pulled off one of the biggest of all time time when Flight South won the 2000 Auckland Cup at 106-1 beating Yulestar and Holmes D G. Harder Than Diamonds is related to Flight South through her dam Three Jewels, who won 11 races herself and is out of a half sister to Flight South. “It has been a great breed and this filly can continue that,” says Neal. “She still has plenty of improving to do and it is not outside the realms of possibility she could win a couple more and qualify for the Jewels.” That great day returns to the Neals home track on Cambridge on June 6 this year. While Andrew did much of the work in Friday’s win he admits he had some help during the week leading into the race. “Lyn and I had a few days in Queenstown so we asked Matty White and Sean McCaffrey to pop around and work a couple of our horses in fast work day. “Matty drove Ideal Agent and Sean drove this filly and she made him (Ideal Agent) work to hold her out. “Matty was so impressed he text me after looking for the drive but I told him now this week. Not yet.” Neal doesn’t drive anywhere as much as he used to at 62 but by no means because of age as the couple show no signs of slowing down, more re-prioritising. “We have eight horses in work at any one time and that is enough because we want to have the time to so other things as well and enjoy life. “So usually these days we might drive one to keep get it educated and then hand the reins to somebody else.” Other stars of the Alexandra Park Friday night meeting were Gaz Man, who returned to his best with an all the way win in a good three-year-old trot while trainers Steve and Amanda Telfer won three races to make it six in 26 hours after a treble at Cambridge the night before and they are closing in on third, possibly even second on the premiership by the end of the season. View the Alexandra Park results click here!   by Michael Guerin

One of New Zealand racing's most unheralded Group 1 winners returns at Alexandra Park tonight to start a campaign that could see her get the recognition she deserves. Mexicana resumes in a strong three-year-old trot race to start tonight's Alexandra Park meeting, her first start since Melton in Victoria in November, and faces a tricky assignment off a 20m handicap over 2200m. Making that more complicated is Mexicana meets a race-hardened rival like Son Of Patrick, who has been cleaning up older opponents at Cambridge, as well as giving some talented types that 20m start. There is no doubting her ability as Mexicana was good enough to beat older trotters at Alexandra Park twice in October, both times with faultless manners and a high cruising speed. After that she headed to Victoria where she won one of harness racing's more unusual Group 1 races, the A$50,000 Redwood at Maryborough, a standing start 2190m trot for two-year-olds. Even though that was only four months ago she was a two-year-old in Australia but three here, with the Australian season now based on the calendar year whereas the New Zealand harness season still runs August to July. As odd as the conditions of the Redwood were and Mexicana's yo-yoing age status is, she is still clearly a good filly although trainer-driver Josh Dickie admits she might be vulnerable. "She has only had one workout so she will have improvement in her," says Dickie. "But she has great manners and that should help with the handicap. But it looks a very handy and even bunch of three-year-old trotters this season, both here and down south. "I think there are six or eight horses who could win the major three-year-old trots." The next of those Group race trots is the New Zealand Oaks at Addington in two weeks, for which Mexicana is on trial tonight. So much will depend on the scurry to the first bend. If Mexicana steps well and a couple of her rivals gallop (likely) she could be handy enough to win with a lap to go. But if the front markers step and run hard then both she and Son Of Patrick, who is the one to beat, could be playing catch-up for a long way as most in the race have good ability. Dickie was sent Mexicana to train by Canterbury owner Trevor Casey, who also entrusted him with former Inter Dominion champion Winterfell. The latter has developed a disdain for left-handed racing that means he is better off racing in the north and Dickie is aiming him at the Anzac Cup and Rowe Cups next month. "He had a workout for us last week and was really good and seems a happy horse," he explains. "It is great to be given a chance with a horse like him and we are going to avoid temptation with him and just stick to the right-handed racing at this stage." Dickie takes another open-classer to Alexandra Park in Kay Cee, who faces a daunting task off 50m over 2200m in the main trot. Dickie believes the six-year-old can still win. "It won't be easy but there is only one on the front line and he does step well so if he can catch the body of the field he still has a chance," he said. Bosses prepared for all levels Alexandra Park bosses are being flexible about tonight's meeting as they await today's alert levels announcement, but they still have room for owners on track for the meeting unless there is a dramatic change of circumstances. With Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern not set to announce the likely change until noon today, Alexandra Park could be run at level 2, meaning only owners who have registered or restaurant guests are allowed, or if Auckland drops to level 1 before 5pm, the meeting will open to all comers. "We already have close to 100 owners registered to come and they will have their own room," says ATC racing manager Karen Blanchard. "And we have other restaurants and bars which will be kept separate from each other which can also hold 100 people each. "So we are prepared for a level 2 meeting but if the levels are dropped, the gate will be open to everybody as usual." Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Northern Derby runner-up Luke John has joined the powerful Hayden Cullen stable. The exciting three-year-old, one of the big improvers of his crop this season, led the chase behind the tearaway Krug in the Woodlands-sponsored Derby won in such sensational fashion last Friday. Luke John raced in the fluro yellow colours of Aussie owner Mick Harvey last Friday after being expertly trained by Logan Hollis and Shane Robertson but he has now headed to Canterbury to join Cullen. “We thought with the Derby down there his next target that was the best place for him to go,” said Harvey. “The boys up north have done a great job with him and we are thrilled with how he went last week. “He seems to be getting better and better all the time and I was talking to Mark Purdon about him and he rates him really highly. “So he will join Hayden for the Derby and then he will come over to Australia and join Nathan Purdon.” Nathan Purdon has moved to Victoria where he is setting up from Dean Braun’s property and a horse like Luke John could be just the horse to give him a group one race contender. Luke John’s second in the Derby started a huge weekend for the likeable Harvey, who is also an owner of King Of Swing, winner of back to back Miracle Miles. “It was a special weekend, especially seeing the King get his second Mile. “So he will head to the Queensland carnival now, to the Victoria Cup and then the Inter Dominions, with the final at Menangle this year. “And then all going well come back and try and become the first horse to win three Miracle Miles.” Meanwhile, no firm plans have been made yet for any of the horses Cullen trains to head to the Queensland winter carnival which is now being touted for Copy That and potentially American Dealer.   by Michael Guerin

Tony Cameron’s greatest driving success couldn’t have come at a better time. The 33-year-old reinsman recorded the biggest win of his career when Temporale nosed out former stablemate Bolt For Brilliance in the Greenlane Cup at Alexandra Park last Friday. Being a Group Three it was the richest win of Cameron’s career and came on one of his favourite horses. “He is a great horse and it was a real thrill to beat a up and coming superstar like Bolt For Brilliance,” said Cameron. But to drive that winner was even more special for Cameron as he became a father last week, with his partner Georgia giving birth to their little daughter Indy. “It was a pretty amazing week so to get that win after Indy was born meant a lot to me. “She has actually spent a week in the hospital but we are hoping she can come home tomorrow (Wednesday). It is a very exciting time.” While Bolt For Brilliance was the hot favourite Temporale’s win was popular as he has long been a northern trotting favourite and, having given the favourite a 10m start, there was no doubt he earned the win. But it was even more popular because of Cameron, a long-time employee of Tony Herlihy. Temporale’s win was Cameron's 104th, with 34 of those coming on trotters. Cameron has overcome plenty of real life drama to make it in the industry, being struck down with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a decade ago, something he is now thankfully clear of. He has been given plenty of opportunities by Herlihy and also by Temporale’s trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett and has repaid them by improving his craft every season to the point he seems at home in the tough school of open Alexandra Park races. “I love the driving and I’ve always wanted a group race win. And he is such a lovely horse to drive. I thought Bolt For Brilliance had fought back to beat us, especially with Tony on. “So the way it has worked out, with Indy having arrived, has been wonderful.”   by Michael Guerin

Tony Herlihy has never been involved in a group one like it and most of us have never seen one like it. But Krug’s tearaway win in Friday night’s NZ$200,000 Woodlands Northern Derby at Alexandra Park was a thing of raw power and beauty matched only by it shock value. The fact the Dalgety-trained colt won the Derby was no surprise, after he was heavily backed in from $3.20 to $1.80 and the punters who took those odds would have been feeling pretty good after 200m as he strolled to the front. But after a lap things started to go badly wrong as Krug got keener and keener, racing between 12-15 lengths clear with a lap to go. When a high class horse with our greatest ever driver aboard does that you think gear malfunction or he must be striking the sulky with his hind legs but Herlihy says that wasn’t the case. “He just got very stirred up and the further we weren’t the worse he got. I realised after about 200m of trying to calm him down he wasn’t interested so I just went with him,” said The Iceman. “Usually when something like that happens they can’t hold on and win but Cran had him so fit and he did a huge job. “I bloody glad he did cause I would have looked silly otherwise. I can’t ever remember having that happen quite like that before.” While horses who race that clear rarely hold on at the highest level it was obvious at the 400m the chasers weren’t chasing fast enough and it was Luke John who closed the gap to three and a half lengths with American Dealer his usual brave third. But all anybody could talk about was Krug’s tactics and the drama of the win, which firmly cements him back at the leader of the three-year-old pack, especially after the early favourite for Fridays classic It’s All About Faith dropped out to run last. He will head back to Addington to try and add another Derby, with Ragazzo Mach and a few others waiting to join the fight but with Krug pacing 3:18 for the 2700m mobile, the sixth fastest in Derby history doing so much wrong, he deserves to be favourite for the NZ Derby as well. Not quite so dramatic was Copy That’s win in the Co-Op Taxis City of Auckland Free-For-All as he worked to the front, albeit it in a quick opening 600m, and was never challenged after, holding out a huge late run from Kango. The winner now heads to the Easter Cup meeting while Kango and third-placed Christianshavtime have done enough to suggest they can be open class forces next season as the north looks to replenish those stocks. The other shock of the feature races came in the Greenlane Trotting Cup where Temporale finally got one over Bolt For Brilliance. The race looked as good as over in the middle stages when the hot favourite worked to the lead but he was grabbed on the line by Temporale who sprinted magnificently from the one-one for a no excuses win considering he gave the winner a 10m start. It was one of the biggest wins of young driver Tony Cameron’s career as Temporale downed his former stablemate, reminding us all what a wonderful trotting warrior he is for Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett.   Michael Guerin

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