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A simple question could decide the $100,000 Taylor Mile at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Does a Miracle Mile winner respect an Auckland Cup winner enough to trail him, especially in a group one sprint at Alexandra Park? Because that is puzzle facing punters after Spankem drew inside stablemate Turn It Up in one of the last group ones of the northern season. The pair will dominate betting on the Mile, which actually reverts to the true mile distance of 1609m after being run over 1700m since 2007. After winning the Auckland Cup and then the Easter Cup last start, Turn It Up might be the best pacer in the country and in any normal race against even this elite level of opposition he would be expected to lead and win. But stablemate Spankem is drawn inside him at barrier two and considering he won both a prelude and then the Miracle Mile itself by leading he would seem to have every right to park out his stablemate and try for another all-the-way win if he can he reaches the front. It will be a fascinating key plot to the race, with any pre-race indications from trainers the All Stars sure to have a significant impact on the market. For all their exploits this season the pair can’t lay total claim to the four-year-old sprint with all but one of their rivals rated 90 or above, which is pretty much open class these days. While they were the big winners out of the draws in the main pacing race on a stellar premier programme at Alexandra Park, some of the other recent group one winners at the Addington carnival haven’t fared so well. NZ Trot Championships hero Speeding Spur faces the outside of the front line in the $100,000 Anzac Cup, the final lead-up to next week’s Rowe Cup. Trainers John and Josh Dickie are happy with how the veteran has come through his last-start win but with Massive Metro (barrier three) and Lemond (four) drawn inside him and Marcoola and Sundees Son certain to be moving from the second line, the race looks one of the hottest contest of the trotting season Also disadvantaged by the draw at the trifectamates from the NZ Trot Derby, with Lotamuscle, Enhance Your Calm and Tricky Ric all drawing the second line in Friday’s $60,000 Sires’ Stakes Trot. But while some of those stars face interesting nights at the office exceptional juvenile pacing filly Sweet On Me will be a long way into red odds to remain unbeaten after drawing the front line in the $100,000 Caduceus Club Final, making her everybody’s anchor in the first leg of the $40,000 Pick6. While Friday night’s meeting is one of the strongest of the season a couple of the big players will be just as focussed on Melton in Victoria on Saturday night, with northern filly Belle Of Montana opening $1,40 to win the A$150,000 Victoria Oaks. She was brilliant coming from a long way back to win her heat last Saturday and has drawn the ace in this Saturday’s classic, with her natural speeding giving driver Zac Butcher plenty of options on the Barry Purdon-trained filly. Already the winner of a group one Sires’ Stakes Championship at home if Belle Of Montana can add an Australian group one this weekend she will have gone from unknown maiden to one of the most valuable female pacers in Australasia in just nine starts. Michael Guerin

There could hardly be a more appropriate horse to launch the Harness Jewels for 2019 than Sweet On Me.  The unbeaten juvenile filly will take the Jewels preparation to the next level when she rolls on to Addington today for her Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes heat in the Jewels yellow colours, worn every year by the leader of each division.  Sweet On Me will be the first horse to wear them this season and it is fitting it will be at Addington, the new southern home of the great day.  But that isn’t the only reason it is appropriate Sweet On Me is the first wearer of the colours for this year’s Jewels.  Because her dam, champion mare Adore Me, wore them twice to victory at the Jewels themselves, at Ashburton in 2013 and Cambridge in 2014.  Both year’s Adore Me bolted home before going on to pace a then Australasian record 1:47.7 at Menangle.  Sweet On Me is her first foal, by Sweet Lou, and is already enormously advanced on dear old mum as Adore Me didn’t race until she was three. “She is a very, very good filly,” says co-trainer Mark Purdon, trying not to get too carried away after just three starts.  But he and everybody else knows that Sweet On Me looks a standout not just for race six at today’s rare day Addington meeting but for the entire season.  So for all the quality of those she meets today, and the field does include some smart fillies, it will be a major shock if she is beaten.  With the Jewels less than two months away the first outing for the leader’s colours comes in the same week the TAB opened odds on all nine races.  And Australian interest in their invites has been enormous, with the connections of up to 20 horses already expressing their interest.  HRNZ’s Darrin Williams said the first Australian invite was not too far away but the organisation may wait until after the Easter break to see as much exposed form as possible.  Another possible Jewels contender on show today is Wainui Creek, who takes on older horses in race eight trying to bounce back from her last-start failure.   Michael Guerin

It was only a four-horse workout on a quiet Pukekohe morning but it confirmed what astute reinsman Todd Mitchell had been thinking for a while. That Massive Metro, who heads to Alexandra Park tonight, is the best trotter he has driven. And that should be good enough for punters to jump on the National Trot winner tonight. Massive Metro has taken every step asked of him by trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett this season, downing Marcoola at group one level and winning brilliantly off a handicap last start. He warmed up for tonight winning at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday and Mitchell, a four-time New Zealand Cup winner, was beaming after his performance. "We were back in the field and following Temporale when he stopped (atrial fibrillation) and my horse felt flat," explains Mitchell. "But when I pulled the plugs he just flew and bolted in. "Every time I have driven him this season he has got better and I think he is better this campaign too. "He has real speed and can stay as we saw in the National Trot. "I've always thought Prime Power was the best trotter I have driven regularly but I think this fella has a more all round game so now I'd have to say he is." While Massive Metro was sling-shotted by sprint king Lemond two starts ago Mitchell isn't worried about a repeat of that at tonight's all-mile meeting. "He really doesn't kick into gear until you pull the plugs and I couldn't find the cord that night. So it was mostly my fault." With a few question marks hanging over some of the battle-weary open class crop it wouldn't surprise to see Massive Metro win tonight and then go on to capture either the Anzac Cup (April 26) or Rowe Cup (May 3). Or both. Still, Lemond's record over sprint distances has been so good his entire career he deserves plenty of respect, especially if he is able to track the favourite into the race. Tonight's pacing feature should see On The Cards finally get back into the winner's circle after a frustrating string of placings in good fields. He looked home after a beautiful Zachary Butcher drive last Friday only to be grabbed late by Triple Eight, who is a rival again tonight. The difference is tonight Triple Eight faces a second line draw whereas On The Cards comes in incredibly well, being a rating 87 horse but with the best draw of the favourites and if he leads, he should win. One of the more interesting newcomers tonight is New South Wales filly Lulu Le Mans, who contests a handy Sires' Stakes fillies' heat. She is a member of the NSW branch of the Mark Jones stable, which is run in partnership with Aaron Goadsby and while she meets some smart local fillies from barrier two she will be hard to beat as she starts down a path that could lead toward the Jewels. All-mile meetings at the Park can be tricky for punters as the natural inclination is to back only those drawn to lead but the last all-mile night saw horses able to come from all sorts of draws to win, especially down in the grade where the progressive horses are often simply too good for the journeymen.   Michael Guerin   photo by Fokus Harness Racing Photography

The Rowe Cup dreams of one of trotting's Big Three lives on as another's start to fade during a tumultuous week for the open class crop. The comeback of undoubtedly New Zealand's best trotter Monbet appears to have stalled yet again as he is missing from the fields for Rangiora on Sunday, which was to have been his next assignment. And that must bring into doubt his chances of making it to Auckland for the Anzac Cup on April 26 and more importantly the Rowe Cup a week later. Monbet has had just one start in 28 months after a series of leg issues but trainer Greg Hope was, excuse the pun, hoping he had the seven-year-old sound enough for a group one campaign after a recent trials win. But after developing a splint last week that kept him out of last Friday's Trotting Championships and now missing Rangiora on Sunday, it is hard to see how he could be fit enough to race, let alone win in Auckland. While Monbet's northern assault is in doubt Marcoola will be on trial for a trip north when he contests Sunday's race, for which he will now be a hot favourite. He was a huge flop behind Speeding Spur last Friday with driver Clint Ford suggesting the very wet Addington track may have been one reason. "He has handled a wet track before but he didn't seem to enjoy it last week," said Ford. "Maybe it was that and maybe it was the fact he has missed a lead-up race. "But he has worked well since and if he bounces back on Sunday then the trip to Auckland will still be on. "We are still intending to go but obviously we would have to reassess if he fails again on Sunday." Marcoola will be up against last season's Jewels winner Habibi Inta while the feature of the Rangiora card will be the Classic for the pacers where New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer clashes with Chase Auckland, A G's White Socks and Ashley Locaz. It will be Chase Auckland's first start in New Zealand for the season so he has no stake money so far with which to qualify for the Jewels at Addington on June 1. He has this Sunday and the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Auckland as well as possibly some smaller mid-May races to try to win at least $40,000 to get into the Jewels. But because he hasn't earned any money domestically this season he hasn't been listed in the market for the four-year-old Emerald. The TAB released those markets yesterday and there are some real cases of punter beware. Turn It Up and Spankem are the two favourites for the four-year-old male pace but it wouldn't surprise to see either or both bypass the race to spell and prepare for the rich treble of the New Zealand Cup-Inter Dominion-Auckland Cup which are all in New Zealand in the last seven weeks of this year. And the participation of champion three-year-old Ultimate Sniper in the Jewels would seem anything but certain as he has been sent for scintigraphy after being slightly uneasy in his gait when winning the New Zealand Derby last Friday. Michael Guerin

Temporale’s chances of chasing a second Rowe Cup hang in the balance.  But trainer-driver Tony Herlihy hopes to have a better guide as to whether he can make the Auckland carnival by later in the week.  Temporale threw a spanner in Herlihy’s works when he pulled up during the open class workout at Pukekohe on Saturday suffering from atrial fibrillation.  While many horses can quickly return to normal after the heart problem, Temporale was still slightly out of rhythm today so will head to the vet clinic.  “Sometimes when they fibrillate its not a big deal but this time he has taken a while to come back to normal,” said Herlihy.  “So he can go to the vet and get worked on and hopefully he will be back to normal soon and we can press on to the Rowe Cup meeting.  “But it is a setback. Not only does it mean we are starting to get close to the Anzac Cup (April 26) but also because he stopped he didn’t really have a run on Saturday.”That workout was won in impressive style by Massive Metro and he heads to the open class mile at Alexandra Park this Friday to take on Lemond, a race Temporale could have used to start his autumn campaign.  He now faces going into the Anzac Cup fresh up if he is to be ready for the Rowe Cup on May 3, a race Temporale won two years ago and ran third in last season.  If he doesn’t make the carnival the rangy trotter then quickly runs out of major open class targets for the rest of a season which has already been a rollercoaster ride for him.  His most profitable performance of the season was his close second in the Great Southern Star at Melton in January. Temporale isn’t the only former Rowe Cup winner whose participation in this year’s carnival is unsure, with Monbet trying to book himself a trip via Rangiora on Sunday.  The exceptional trotter missed last Friday’s NZ Trotting Champs after developing a splint in a hind leg but his trainers the Hopes are confident it is not a major problem.  “He jogged fine this morning and we have nominated him for Rangiora on Sunday,” said Ben Hope, son of trainer Greg and Nina.  “So he is goes well there then we would like to head to Auckland for the two races up there but we will no more after Sunday.”  Meanwhile, Victorian trainer Andy Gath is still undecided whether former Kiwi trotter McLovin will come to the carnival.  He has won seven of eight for Gath in Australia and could return home for both the Anzac and Rowe Cups after another win at Melton last Saturday.  “I haven’t completely made up my mind yet but I am leaning toward going,” said Gath.   Michael Guerin

The most important factor Spankem has on his side going into tonight’s $100,000 Easter Cup is the one thing you can’t see.  The 3200m race looms as a thriller with the winners of the New Zealand and Auckland Cups in Thefixer and Turn It Up as well as last-start Miracle Mile winner Spankem with a super-strong support cast on Addington’s most dazzling night of the season.  Many of the indicators punters might use for making their decision are there in plain sight — the standing start and 3200m records, video performances from races and trials, the handicaps and draws while we can all rate the big three and their rivals on how we personally feel about them.  But the one thing you can’t see but you can ask is who is the horse in the zone right now?. Because when the competition is this tough and even, the horse who is closest to their peak is often the one who can run through the pain barrier to win.  That horse might be Spankem.  While co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen says all five of their starters in the Cup are ready to go, she believes Spankem is the one in that zone.  “Obviously any one of our top three could win without surprising us and it might simply come down to luck in the running,” says Rasmussen. “But Spankem seems perfect, really where he needs to be. He was spot on when he won the Miracle Mile and he hasn’t lost any of that.  “He couldn’t be better so if I had to opt for one it would probably be him.”  That doesn’t guarantee any success as Spankem still faces a 20m handicap and the chance of bad luck that brings and new driver Tim Williams will need to join the battle at the right time. For example if he follows Thefixer around the field and has to sit parked giving the latter the one-one maybe he probably can’t win. Reverse that scenario and Spankem becomes the one to beat out of the pair.  The horse punters might struggle to work out the exact fitness of is Turn It Up, who might be the best pacer in the country.  The Auckland Cup winner hasn’t raced for three months but wouldn’t be here unless his champion trainers thought he could win.  But very, very few horses in the modern history of New Zealand harness racing have won group one 3200m without a lead-up race. Turn It Up might be that good but his odds aren’t really tempting enough to find out.  While the Easter Cup could come down to any combination of those variables tonight’s two Derbys both look far more straight forward. If both Ultimate Sniper ($200,000 Pacing Derby) and Enhance You Calm ($100,000 Trotting Derby) behave themselves and race up to their potential they should both him.  The NZ Trot Champs is a battle of the established in Speeding Spur and Marcoola against the four-year-olds but Marcoola is still top trotting dog until somebody wrestles that title off him.   Michael Guerin

The drive on a last-start Miracle Mile winner doesn’t get given away very often so Tim Williams knows he is a lucky man.  But he might still need every ounce of that luck to turn his golden opportunity into something more tangible in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Easter Cup at Addington  on Friday night.  Williams, the third-string driver for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, will be given the reins behind Spankem even though after his Miracle Mile victory five weeks ago you could make the case he isn’t just the best horse in their stable but as good as any in Australasia.  But a thankful Williams wasn’t surprised his bosses opted to stay with their more regular drives.  “Natalie drove Thefixer to win the New Zealand Cup and Mark has driven Turn It Up all along, including his Auckland Cup win,” says Williams.  “When Turn It Up didn’t go to Aussie it meant Mark could get back on Spankem but I can understand him sticking with Turn It Up now they all back together.  “But I’m in a pretty privileged position to get on a horse like him straight after he wins a Miracle Mile.” Not that it by any means guarantees victory as the race is now shaping as the strongest of the season in New Zealand, even superior to the New Zealand Cup.  While Tiger Tara started in the New Zealand Cup along with Dream About Me, this Friday’s race has that NZ Cup winner, the Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile heroes as well as Easter Cup defending champion A G’s White Socks, the in-form Henry Hubert and former Jewels winners Eamon Maguire and Jack’s Legend, the latter having also finished second to Lazarus in a NZ Cup 18 months ago.  Williams admits nobody at the All Stars knows what to expect. “I think everybody likes to think they might know what will happen in a race but when it is a 3200m standing start handicap it is impossible to tell.  “So I am looking forward to seeing what happens like everybody else.”  Turn It Up will likely start favourite even though he hasn’t raced for three months because he gets a 10m start over Spankem and Thefixer (20m) but those advantages can disappear with the slightest bobble or scrap of bad luck.  While the Easter Cup isn’t easy to predict the $200,000 Diamond Creek Farm NZ Derby got a whole lot clearer after the pre-draw favourite Ultimate Sniper drew barrier four after emergencies.  While he cost punters plenty when galloping last start in the Flying Stakes he has worked well since and with stablemate Jesse Duke on the second line Ultimate Sniper will start well into the red.  So too will Enhance Your Calm in the $100,000 NZ Trotting Derby but the $100,000 NZ Trotting Champs looks a good puzzle, with newcomer King’s Landing (three) and veteran Speeding Spur (four) getting the better of Marcoola (six) in the draws.  TAB markets for the group ones should be open today. Michael Guerin

Monbet’s road back to the top of New Zealand trotting just took another detour.  But driver Ricky May is hoping his latest setback doesn’t cost the former Horse of the Year a shot at the Rowe Cup in a few weeks.  The great trotter has only had one start back after a nearly two and a half year layoff during which he has battled a range of leg problems and general unsoundness.  With a race under his belt last month he won at the trials on March 13 and was all set for his return to group one action in the $100,000 NZ Trot Championships at Addington on Friday.  Except Monbet won’t be there after developing a splint in one of his hind legs.  “It shouldn’t be that big a deal and Greg (Hope, trainer) wasn’t that worried about it when I spoke to him yesterday,” said regular driver Ricky May.  “He was about 70 per cent on starting him this week so it wasn’t that bad but he has obviously decided against it.  “It is a real shame because he trialed so well and Greg thought he was ready to go after giving him a proper workout the other day. “But obviously it is still annoying him so it looks like he will miss this Friday.”  Hope could not be contacted last night.  Friday’s 2600m mobile was to be the first clash of trotting’s big three in Monbet, Speeding Spur and Marcoola.  The latter two are in the nominations for Friday’s group one and Monbet could theoretically join them still has nominations have been extended until this morning.  But if he doesn’t then May hopes Monbet can be back on track for the Anzac Cup (April 26) and Rowe Cup (May 3) both at Alexandra Park. The Trotting Champs won’t be without real depth though as rising stars Winterfell, King’s Landing and Sundees Son step up to the open class group one level for the first time. Friday night’s meeting is one of the strongest of the year with the $200,000 New Zealand Derby for the pacer and the $100,000 equivalent for the trotters as well as the Easter Cup.  Ultimate Sniper retains favouritism for the pacing Derby even after an expensive last-start gallop, rated a $1.70 by the TAB ahead of stablemate Jesse Duke at $4. Letterkenny Boy, who is third favourite in the futures market for the Derby has not been nominated and is instead entered for a lower grade race on Friday night so is very much a case of punter’s beware.  Enhance Your Calm will be unbackable in the Trotting Derby while the Easter Cup is likely to bring together New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer, Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up and Miracle Mile hero Spankem. But the shock of that race is the entry of superstar three-year-old filly Princess Tiffany, because her high rating means there are no other races on Friday, outside the Derby, she is eligible for. But she won’t be starting it was just trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen making a point about how poorly off the best three-year-olds, especially fillies, can be treated by the rating and programming systems when the country’s best filly can’t find a suitable race. Michael Guerin

Two of the biggest names in New Zealand harness racing face dreadful draws in the open class races at Addington tonight and that should be enough to steer punters toward their rivals.  Because while both Thefixer (Superstars) and Speeding Spur (free-for-all trot) have by far the best career records in their respective races, their trainers are both wary.  Speeding Spur returns after two months away, his last outing being a below par performance in the Great Southern Star in Victoria when he was found to have had lung issues.  He ran last of four in a workout at Pukekohe last Saturday but that is not what worries co-trainer John Dickie going into tonight’s main trot.  “He actually trialled well, he trotted his last 800m in 56.5 seconds and his 400m in under 27 seconds,” says Dickie.  “So we are happy with him but he is fresh up and has drawn the outside of the front line so more than likely he will be driven for luck.  “If he gets the right cart into it he can still win but he will improve a lot because he has three group ones coming up next month.”While he has won fresh up before employing sit-sprint tactics Speeding Spur faces a  huge test doing that over 1980m tonight, especially if fit, fast rivals like Ronald J or Valloria can lead.  The same applies to Thefixer in the Superstars for four and five-year-old pacers but he has a couple of advantages over Speeding Spur’s situation.  Not only has Thefixer raced consistently well at the highest level in the last two months, finishing second in the Miracle Mile, but he won a trial last week and comes in one spot to barrier eight after the scratching of Sherrif.  He meets a very even field full of rock hard fit horses with plenty of gate speed, which suggest he too could be going back at the start before working his way into the race.  He might simply have too much clash for his opponents but it looks a tricky race and trainer Mark Purdon admits the New Zealand Cup winner won’t be at his peak.  “He has done really well since coming home from Sydney and there will be some improvement in him,” said Purdon.  If he can get around mid race during an easy sectional then Thefixer might be good enough to sit parked and win but he might need to be clearly the best horse in the race and then some because a sub-1:54 mile rate wouldn’t surprise and that is hard for any horse three wide if they are not totally screwed down. Horses well capable of taking advantage of that include his own stablemate Eamon Maguire, A G’s White Socks, the Robert Dunn-trained pair of Henry Hubert and Alta Maestro and Jack’s Legend, who has returned to the form that saw him finish second to Lazarus in the New Zealand Cup last season.  If he could use his gate speed to blast across and lead then Jack’s Legend becomes the one to beat but after sitting parked last start he might be developing another string to his bow.  Earlier in the night the men behind Thefixer and Speeding Spur meet again in the Sires’ Stakes Trot Prelude but this time the result looks far more clear cut, with Enhance Your Calm (Purdon) expected to lead and win, giving Tricky Ric (Dickie) a great chance to trail and provide the quinella. “He is in a good place,” says Purdon of Enhance Your Calm. Michael Guerin

A workout today will determine whether Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up has a radical shot at the Easter Cup.  Because if training legend Mark Purdon is happy with the horse who might just be the best pacer in the country, Turn It Up could go fresh up into the Easter Cup without a start in three months.  Still the veteran of only 10 starts, Turn it Up hasn’t raced since winning the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 11, 12 days after he won the Auckland Cup. He has already had the better of both Miracle Mile winner Spankem and New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer this season so an Easter Cup win could earn him crucial votes in the Horse of the Year. But even for Purdon attacking a group one 3200m standing start fresh-up with a four-year-old, who would be up against horses like Thefixer and Jacks Legend, is a stretch. “You wouldn’t try it with most horses but he doesn’t carry any extra weight and he is one horse who could do it,” said the master trainer.  “So I will know a lot more after  the workouts (today) at Rangiora. If I am happy with him then we will probably go down the Easter Cup path.  “If we are not he can go to the Rangiora Classic a week later.”  While Turn It Up hasn’t raced for nearly three months in that time Thefixer has raced five times, including two wins and a second in the Miracle Mile.  He returns at Addington in the Superstars Championships on Friday night up against a rampant Jacks Legend with Purdon admitting the NZ Cup winner could be vulnerable, especially as the pair have drawn the outside two spots on the front line.  “He has done very, very well since he came home from Sydney so he will definitely improve with the run this week.” While harness punters may still be stinging from Ultimate Sniper’s expensive failure after galloping in last Friday’s Flying Stakes at Addington, Purdon says he has little option but to turn the page.  “I can’t put it down to anything,” he says of the three-year-old who had won seven of his eight previous starts. “It wasn’t like he was being rushed off the gate at the time, Tim (Williams, driver) had a nice hold on him so there was no reason for him to get unbalanced.  “And he wasn’t sore or anything like that and I am even thinking of asking the stewards if I can see the head-on footage to see if I can detect anything there.”  With no explanation as to why Ultimate Sniper galloped and lost all chance, Purdon has little option but to press on to the New Zealand Derby on April 5, for which he is the $1.85 favourite.  That April 5 Derby meeting also hosts the New Zealand Trotting Champs, which will see the first ever clash of Monbet, Marcoola and Speeding Spur, our best three trotters in the last five years.  But they could be joined by two Purdon-Rasmussen trained four-year-olds, one not unexpected the other a real surprise.  “We are looking at starting both Winterfell and Kings Landing in the Trotting Championships,” revealed Purdon. “Winterfell was a touch disappointing last Friday but needed the run while Kings Landing has really impressed me, he feels like a good horse.  “So they can take on the top trotters next week and see how they measure up.”  On the subject of top trotters HRNZ bosses are thrilled by the possibility leading Australian trainer Emma Stewart could aim a team to the Harness Jewels at Addington on June 1, headlined by her exciting three-year-old trotter Alpha Male.  Stewarts usually only trains pacers but Alpha Male’s last start win was so stunning she has indicated to HRNZ she is keen to bring him to Addington and could find others in her team who are the right fit for the $1.275million meeting.   Michael Guerin

Champion trotting trainer Phil Williamson is looking forward to taking a horse you have never heard of to the races at Addington tonight just as much as his stable star. Because debutant two-year-old Ultimate Stride won't remain unknown for long. That is how high an opinion Williamson has of last season's trotting sales-topping yearling heading into the two-year-old trot at Addington tonight. Ultimate Stride has only had a handful of workouts and trials but Williamson says he is at least as good as Oscar Bonevena, the star two-year-old he trained last season until he was sold for big money. "He is pretty smart but he might need to be from the second line," says Williamson, who leads the national trainers premiership for trotting wins. "Ideally he would have drawn the front line and could have made his own luck and off the second line it is not as easy to be confident. "But I think he is a pretty good horse and he can still win." Williamson also lines up his stable star Majestic Man in tonight's four and five-year-old trot but says his chances might depend on the readiness of key rival Winterfell. "It is a good field and I respect a horse like Sundees Son but Winterfell is a horse we haven't beaten yet so if he is at his best maybe we will struggle to beat him. "Don't get me wrong, our horse is a genuine open class horse but I can't tip him to beat Winterfell until we have done it before." Winterfell's stablemate Ultimate Sniper looks close to a good thing in tonight's Flying Stakes, the lead-up to the NZ Derby in two weeks. The race of the night at Addington will almost certainly be the clash of group one winners like Sheriff, A G's White Socks, Elle Mac and Eamon Maguire in the $30,000 free-for-all, with the early tempo the key as those who work hard could be left sitting ducks. At Alexandra Park tonight On The Cards will enjoy not having to face stablemate Jack's Legend in the main pace after finishing a close second to him in his last three starts. Back into a slightly easier grade the rugged pacer should be able to use his gate speed to go forward and control race six and looks one of the better bets of the night, along with Heavyweight Hero in the main trot after it took Massive Metro to beat him last start.   Michael Guerin

Marcoola’s comeback has be delayed as Clint Ford just couldn’t ask his old mate to start off a massive handicap at Addington this week. So the Dominion winner will now go into the NZ Trotting Champs against Speeding Spur and Monbet without a race in two months. Marcoola’s season has been a real game of two halves situation: before Christmas he was nearly unbeatable, since then nothing has gone right. He was beaten by Massive Metro as a red hot favourite in the National Trot on New Years Eve then performed lengths below his best in the Great Southern Star at Melton in January, later found to have dust in his lungs. Now back in his beloved Canterbury, owner-driver Ford says he is putting the failed Victorian experience behind him. “I loved the trip and being part of it over there but nothing went our way for the race,” says Ford. “Both him and Amaretto Sun were fine when they first got to Victoria but after a few days the weather changed and it got very, very hot into the 40s.  They stopped eating and drinking as much and raced liked it and afterwards we had them scoped and found a lot of dust in their lungs. “I suppose the conditions are something the local horses get used to but our didn’t and taking advice from people I think if we went over there again we would either go just the day before or like three weeks before to give them time to adjust. “Obviously what we did didn’t work.” Ford is happy with how Marcoola’s new prep is going  but wasn’t as thrilled with the 55m handicap he received at Addington on Friday night and scratched him. “I am not sure it is the right thing to do racing him off 55m fresh up so I scratched him,” said Ford. “With a horse like him he would have to be put in the race and I think a trial might be a better way to get him ready for the Trotting Championships.” Before his summer derailed post-Christmas, Morcoola would have been unbackable to win Trotter of the Year, especially after one of the more brutal Dominion wins in recent times in November. He will still almost certainly win the title Ford would like to win one of the three group ones remaining to the six-year-old to cement the title and end the season on a high. “We have the Trotting Champs, the Anzac Cup and the Rowe Cup and that will probably do us so I’d like to get at least one of those.” While Marcoola may not make it to Addington on Friday night there is great depth at the meeting and Northern Derby winner Ultimate Sniper looks set to continue on his winning after drawing perfectly in the Flying Stakes, the lead-up to New Zealand Derby on April 5. Michael Guerin

The future of one of New Zealand’s most talented young trotters is in doubt.  Oscar Bonevena is set to miss most if not all of the remainder of the season and trainer Mark Purdon admits the three-year-old’s career is in doubt.  “I hope that isn’t the case but it could be,” says Purdon.  Oscar Bonevena has developed a cyst in one of his knees and Purdon says vets suggest it could be a degenerative problem.  “We are still learning about it as our vet said it is so rare it is something they see only every couple of years,” said Purdon. “So we are seeking advice from experts in this sort of thing from overseas but he won’t be racing any time soon and at best will need a long spell.”  There is obvious disappointment in Purdon’s voice as while he also trains NZ’s top rated three-year-old trotter in Enhance Your Calm, he has a soft spot for Oscar Bonevena, who could be every bit as good as his stablemate.  Purdon purchased the then juvenile last season from Phil Williamson for former Kiwi trainer now based in the US, Chris Ryder, and Purdon’s own father, training legend Roy Purdon.  While he galloped at the Jewels, Oscar Bonevena reminded everybody how good he was with a fresh-up win at Alexandra Park in December which was followed by an enormous second there on New Years Eve when he trotted 3:26.2 for the 2700m, a full second inside Heavyweight Hero’s three-year-old national record.  “That was a huge run that day and he is a very good horse in the making so it is very disappointing to have this sort of problem with him,” said Purdon. With Oscar Bonevena sidelined indefinitely, Enhance Your Calm will be the stable flagbearer in the major three-year-old trots.  The first of those is the NZ Derby on April 5 and he will have a lead-up in the Sires’ Stakes prelude there on Friday week, a race which has been rescheduled from last Friday’s cancelled Addington meeting. “He is going very well and would be as good as any three-year-old I have had at this stage of the season.”  After the NZ Derby, Enhance Your Calm will head to Auckland for the Sires’ Stakes and Northern Trot Derby before rounding out his season in the Jewels.  “I think that will do him, we probably wouldn’t go to Victoria with him.” Michael Guerin

Speed freak northern filly Belle Of Montana is off to the Victoria Oaks.  And she won’t have to meet New Zealand’s other superstar pacing three-year-old Princess Tiffany when she gets there. Trainer Barry Purdon confirmed to HRNZ today he will aim the Sires’ Stakes Championship winner at the Oaks at Melton on April 27.  That means heading over 10 days before to contest the compulsory prelude at Melton on April 20. The preludes are worth A$24,000 and the Oaks A$150,000.  Belle Of Montana is owned in Australia by Dean Shannon, who Purdon says has been great to deal with, leaving decisions up to him. “Dean has been great,” said Purdon.  “He didn’t mind either way if we went to the NSW Oaks and we decided to stay in Auckland because it clashed with the Oaks here. “But the Victoria Oaks suits perfectly.”  Belle Of Montana, winner of five of her seven starts, finished a neck second to Best Western in that Oaks in national record time.  She is already qualified for the Nevele R Fillies Final at Addington in May so has now major domestic targets until then so Purdon has the flexibility to chase the Aussie riches.  “It sounds like none of the other Kiwi fillies are going and it would be a great race to win, not only because of the stake but to help her broodmare career.  “So we are definitely going and I think the racing over there will suit her.” Purdon’s brother Mark has confirmed stunning NSW Oaks winner Princess Tiffany will stay closer to home as she still needs to qualify for the Nevele R Final and will meet Belle Of Montana, who has beaten her both times they have met, in potentially three group ones at Addington in May-June.   Michael Guerin

Trainer Steve Telfer says the Alexandra Park stakes increases have him ready to unleash a big team for the remainder of the season but don’t be fooled into backing the one with the most senior driver. Telfer takes six horses to Alexandra Park tonight for the first meeting of the new ATC stake levels, where most horses above maidens for $20,000 or $25,000, akin to premier meeting stakes in any other parts of the country. “The stake increases are a huge help because it means even if your horse can run a placing or two a month they pay for themselves,” said Telfer. “And that means winning stakes can be profit, which makes a real difference. “So we are going to be concentrating on racing closer to home. We have a lot of younger horses and three-year-olds in work and ready to go which we have sort of aimed at for the late autumn, winter months because the stakes are great but the fields aren’t as strong.” Telfer has three chances in tonight’s $25,000 main handicap and the stable number one driver David Butcher is on Hunter Bromac, even though both Parker and Check In are likely to be more favoured. Telfer says punters shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Butcher is automatically on the stable’s best chances so don't follow him blindly. “Different owners prefer different drivers and then you have different conditions for races so it isn’t always the case David is on our best chance. “I actually can’t split them tonight, they are all good each way chances but I think Parker will step well and try and run them along.” That standing start will be crucial for race favourite Mach Shard, whose manners have been iffy at best but looks the one to beat if he behaves. Telfer has only had $30,000 Graduette runner Olivia Rachel (race one) for a week and likes the filly but says the race tonight is her first race right-handed which could be tricky. “And we have two in race five. Triolet is suited by her drawing following the speed but Court On The Edge has gate speed so the second line draw negates that.” Double Rocket looks the horse to beat in the Sales Series Graduate (race two) coming out of last Friday’s Northern Derby where he was a strong fifth. Michael Guerin

Miracle Mile hero Spankem is set to race on this season setting up a big-three battle for harness racing’s Horse of the Year honour.  And crucial votes in the contest could end up being won at Alexandra Park next month as Spankem clashes with elite stablemates Turn It Up and Chase Auckland.  After his surprise thrashing of his Miracle Mile opponents at Menangle 12 days ago Spankem was sent for a veterinary examination as is so often the case with the better All Stars-trained runners at the end of long campaigns.  Any sign of soreness or issues would have probably seen the four-year-old sent to the paddock but trainer Mark Purdon liked what the vets had to report and Spankem will be Auckland-bound next month.  “They checked him out and said he is in great condition so we will aim him at the Taylor Mile (April 26) and the Messenger (May 3) at Alexandra Park,” said Purdon.   That means all three of the Purdon-Rasmussen mega race winners from this season will race on as Thefixer (New Zealand Cup) and Turn It Up (Auckland Cup) are also going to have autumn campaigns.  Thefixer will contest the Superstars at Addington on March 29 and then the Easter Cup and victory in the latter would go a long way to making him harness racing’s Horse of the Year.  But that will probably round out his season and if either Spankem or Turn It Up could sweep the Alexandra Park double they would enormously boost their chances on making the title race interesting.  Turn It Up could yet contest the Easter Cup but is more likely to head to the Rangiora Classic on April 7 before Alexandra Park.  There he will go head to head with Spankem and Chase Auckland in the group one four-year-old races before more than likely contesting the Jewels at Addington on June 1.  “He hasn’t had the summer racing of some of the others or the travel to Australia,” explains Purdon of Turn It Up.  “So he will probably press on to the Jewels whereas the two big races at Auckland will probably do it for Spankem.”  Spankem versus Turn It Up with the remainder of a strong four-year-old crop led by Chase Auckland would really spice up the Taylor Mile-Messenger double and could go some way to resolving the question of who the best pacer in the country is. The news Turn It Up is more than likely to race on until the Jewels will be welcomed by Addington officials as they prepare to host the massive day for the first time, with Auckland Cup-winning four-year-olds always a risk to miss the Jewels and be spelled to aim at the New Zealand Cup.   Michael Guerin

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