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One of New Zealand’s best pacing mares is heading off-shore and trainer Mark Jones admits he doesn’t know when to expect her back. Jones is sending Stylish Memphis to Sydney to be trained by former Kiwi horseman Jack Trainor, who trains alongside Jason Grimson at Menangle. The plan was hatched when it became clear the All Stars runners Amazing Dream and Beyond Words were not heading across the Tasman, with trainer Hayden Cullen set to have no Aussie reps for the summer. “With Amazing Dream in particular not going the Sydney races like the Ladyship Mile become very attractive,” says Jones. “Not just because she won’t be there but because it also means she will be here and that makes the Addington mares races here so much harder, especially with Beyond Words also being here. “So Sydney is the best place for her and Jack had been hassling me for a while to send her over and now is the time.” It is not the first time Jones has sent Stylish Memphis to another trainer to maximise her potential, with Mark Purdon himself training the filly to win last season’s NSW Oaks after being a huge second in the Victoria Oaks. “It is about placing them where they are best suited and can make the most money,” explains Jones. “After those two mares races here at Addington she has no real mares opportunities until the Jewels and even that could mean taking on Amazing Dream again. “I don’t think we have enough good mares races here and after the two coming up she has to race the likes of Copy That and Self Assured. “Whereas at Menangle she has two A$50,000 mares races before the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile and then can races in mares races every second week.” While Jones and his owners are leaving the option of Stylish Memphis returning for the Jewels open she could also possibly head to North America. “That is another option for her because of all the mares races and the times she can get for her future broodmare career.” Stylish Memphis won’t be the only former Jones-trained good pacer plying her trade at Menangle soon, with Burnham Boy having already started his career there with a win two weeks ago after a two-third share in him was sold to big-time US owners Gordon Banks and Marc Hanover.   By Michael Guerin

Hayden Cullen's dream homecoming at Cambridge tonight night is being dampened by one small detail: he won't be there. The man taking over Australasia's most powerful harness racing stable is learning the realities of what that means — work always comes first. Cullen is now the trainer for almost all the horses which until last week were part of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's All Stars brand, with the pair taking a sabbatical from training. The 36-year-old now runs the most powerful stable in the industry even though to casual punters it will look much the same tomorrow night, with Cullen also taking over Purdon's famous colours and Purdon and Rasmussen both driving. But this is Cullen's team now and he has been in the north working them this week. Until today. "I have had to come back to Christchurch to work the babies because they are at an important stage and we need to look forward with them," he tells the Herald. "So while I looked after the horses up there this week, I won't be going to Cambridge. That is a little bit of a shame because it is my home track and I'd love to have been there but this is my job now, I have to look after the whole team and delegate staff to be where I can't." Cullen says it was a surreal feeling to see his name in the form guides next to Self Assured and Spankem. "This isn't usually how it usually works. When you start training it is often with a few maidens and unraced horses, not New Zealand Cup and Miracle Mile winners. I don't think it has sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a few weeks." So what does all this mean for punters? It would be unrealistic to think Cullen, or anybody else, could maintain the standards Purdon and Rasmussen have set so some horses might eventually see a dip in performance. But there is no proof of that yet and if things change that should take a while to show up. Cullen is a young man taking on a massive job and while he has been trained by the best as their foreman, he is still going to learn as he goes. Cullens keen to stamp their own mark But the reality is Spankem and Ashley Locaz raced in the Auckland Cup only eight days ago so would have taken little work this week leading into a mile race, while Cullen says he is happy with Self Assured, who hasn't raced since winning the New Zealand Cup because of a corn. "I worked him on Wednesday and he worked well," he says. "He is not carrying any extra weight and is ready to go but the draws make it tough for all of ours because it looks like Copy That will lead and that will make him very hard to beat." Spankem raced in the Auckland Cup eight days ago so would have taken little work (Trish Dunell Photo) The Flying Mile at Cambridge being what it is, with leaders so hard to catch at this level, Cullen's debut with three of New Zealand's best pacers could well end in defeat because the best version of Copy That might be unbeatable in front. But Cullen should get his first solo training victory — he has 62 in partnership with Brent Mangos between 2011 and 2014 — with Italian Lad (R8, No 11). "He has worked well and is fitter for his last start so he will be hard to beat." If he is right Cullen and his wife Amanda, who will help run the stable, can raise a glass for their first win in a unique chapter of New Zealand racing. And then tomorrow get straight back to work. FIVE HORSES TO BACK AT CAMBRIDGE 1. Son Of Patrick (R5, No 3): High drop in grade and has experience in mobile racing taking on the best 3yos at Addington last year. If he trots all the way he should win, as he did in his only previous start here. 2. Italian Lad (R8, No 11): Sat parked outside top 3yo B D Joe here last start and ran him close. Only here to get a penalty-free win before heading to Sydney. 3. Majestic Man (R7, No 6): Last time he raced in a sprint here he beat Sundees Son. Too short to back but Pick6 and multi anchor. 4. Hot And Treacherous (R11, No 7): Has been racing primarily in the elite 3yo pacing grade and falls into a perfect race. Almost another Pick6 anchor. 5. Santa Maria (R6, No 3): Latest outings at Alex Park have been in stronger maidens, has the gate speed to use her draw and the boss (trainer, Tony Herlihy) is on board. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The changes at the highest level of New Zealand harness racing have finally hit home to punters. But they take a fair bit of getting used to. The sabbatical being taken by champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen became real when the field for Friday's Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday was declared with Hayden Cullen as the new trainer for Self Assured, Spankem and Ashley Locaz. But what had a far more immediate impact was Purdon revealing to the Herald he will not travel to Australia this summer and any horses from what is now Cullen's barn who do cross the Tasman will go to caretaker trainers. Although Cullen is now in charge of what until last Friday was the All Stars Stable, Purdon was going to take the biggest guns to Australia for a possible inter-state campaign targeting races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. But with the re-emergence of Covid, in New South Wales in particular, and the closure of the state borders a full-scale Australian campaign has been ruled out. "I spoke to many of the owners today and it is just getting too hard and too uncertain," Purdon told the Herald. "Initially when we started talking about me taking some of what are now Hayden's horses to Australia for the best races, we would have been able to travel between Victoria and New South Wales like normal, which was crucial for them to race at both carnivals. "But we are not sure when that will open up again and then there is the question of quarantining on the way back home for me. "So a few of the owners are happy to leave the horses here while we have made other arrangements for those who still want to go." New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured and Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream, will stay home, returning south after Self Assured races at Cambridge on Friday. They were among the favourites for the Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile, Chariots Of Fire and Ladyship Mile. Spankem, a former Miracle Mile winner, will head to Sydney and join the Paul Fitzpatrick stable, with the intention he will be back to Cullen's care after the Miracle Mile on March 6. Ashley Locaz is likely to be flown to Victor Italian Lad may join the Craig Cross stable in Sydney. None of Cullen's three-year-olds will head to NSW for the derbies and Oaks there. The change of plans, while primarily caused by Covid, has still shaken up futures markets which were framed with the understanding Purdon would travel with the horses and effectively train them. So bookies and punters will now have to get used to markets which are no longer framed with the All Stars more often than not providing automatic favourites. Purdon and Rasmussen have taken most of this week off to give Cullen clean air as the new trainer but will drive Self Assured (Purdon) and Spanken (Rasmussen) in the Flying Mile at Cambridge. As good as the pair are, they face a huge task because with the preferential draw they have drawn the outside two barriers while Copy That, who has beaten them both before this season, gets barrier three on Friday. The night's other feature sees Majestic Man set to start a hot favourite in the 1700m sprint for trotters. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand's greatest harness racing trainer left on his own, perfect terms at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. In his last race before Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen take a sabbatical from training they quinellaed the $200,000 Auckland Cup as little mare Amazing Dream grabbed stablemate Spankem late to win the great race. Fittingly it was Purdon who drove the winner but it was Rasmussen who set up the win as her lung-searing last mile in front on Spankem to keep the attentions of Copy That at bay ultimately won the race for Amazing Dream. "That is what won me the race," admitted Purdon. "The pressure on at the lead made it a staying test and this mare is a great stayer." The win was historic as Purdon and Rasmussen, known as the All Stars, cease training from Friday, with the majority of their horses to be taken over by the young stable foreman Hayden Cullen. Purdon and to a lesser extent Rasmussen will still occasionally drive and it is likely they will return to training in some capacity but the days of the all-conquering All Stars machine look over. "I am very comfortable with that decision now and so is Nat and to win our last race officially training with a horse owned by Jean Feiss, who has been one of our most supportive owners, is a great way to end this chapter." Spankem was enormous in second while Copy That was also huge, with his race becoming so much more difficult when he was crossed at the start. The $200,000 Auckland Cup Earlier in the night Enjoy Me gave two of the stars of northern harness racing their first Group 1 win when she won the Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship. Trainer Steve Telfer, who this season started training in partnership with his sister Amanda, and young driver Ben Butcher were both registering their first wins at the highest level of racing when Enjoy Me used the passing lane to grab favourite Bettor Twist after she sat parked for the last lap. Teller and his Stonewall Stud bosses have believed in Butcher since he was a junior driver and their faith has been repaid as he has matured into a leading senior driver. "To get my first Group 1 is special but even more too to get it for Telf and Stonewall after how much they have supported me," said 25-year-old Butcher. Enjoy Me He wasn't the only passing lane major winner tonight as Aladdin, who was sold to new Australian owners just last week, took out the $200,000 Harness Million, beating stablemate Shan Noble in the last few strides. Aladdin Sundees Son ended, for a while at least, the argument over who is New Zealand's best trotting stayer when he easily beat Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the $95,000 National Trot, aptly named cause the winner set a new national record. Sundees Son was able to run to the lead uncontested in the middle stages and adds the National to the Anzac Cup and Row Cup as Group 1 wins at Alexandra Park, as well as a Jewels and a Dominion at Addington, giving him the record of a great trotter with the promise of so much more to come. Sundees Son By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The last race of Mark Purdon's champion training career could be decided by standing start manners in the $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on Thursday. The race will be the last time New Zealand's greatest harness trainer has a horse race in his name for probably a year, maybe even longer as Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen take a step away from training. Purdon confirmed to the Herald yesterday that from Friday, the first day of 2021, all horses trained by he and Rasmussen will transfer to current stable foreman Hayden Cullen's name. That means if stars like Self Assured and Spankem head to Australia for a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile campaign in coming months they will be trained by Cullen, with Purdon the stable's travelling foreman. The changeover will start immediately, with Purdon and Rasmussen taking the opportunity to enjoy their new life with a few days holiday next week and Cullen coming north to training the team racing at Cambridge, with Purdon still set to drive them. But punters need to get their head around the very odd thought that from Friday the All Stars elite are no longer going to be under the daily care of Purdon. "It has been a big task getting all the paperwork together and Natalie has taken care of a lot of that," says Purdon. "But while we will still be involved leading into big carnivals and when needed it is very much going to be Hayden's team and we will only have a role to play when needed." It is somewhat fitting the biggest race on Purdon's home track for the first half of his life will be the last race he has a runner in before his sabbatical, with the Cup to be race nine on Thursday's twilight programme and the stable having no runners in the last race named in their honour. Purdon and Rasmussen not only have the Auckland Cup favourite in Spankem (barrier four) but also third favourite Amazing Dream (three), with the pair drawn handy alongside each other, with the second favourite Copy That drawn barrier two. With Spankem and Copy That all but unbeatable in front at this level is it easy to get the feeling whoever wins the standing start race to the first bend might hold the key to the Cup. But while they both tend to be safe from a stand Amazing Dream is a bit more of a mystery. "I took her to the workouts last week for her first standing start and she handled it well enough," said Purdon. "But racenight, especially having your first standing start in such a big race, can be different and I don't think she would like to be standing for too long before the tapes go." With a smaller field and only eight across the front line at Alexandra Park the Cup should at least not see a repeat of the debacle in the New Zealand Cup last month when the outside horses got a walk up start while those drawn down low were left behind, with Copy That the worst affected. But that shortened front line hasn't helped either Ashley Locaz (9) or Thefixer (11), both of who still now start on the second line. Thursday's meeting also sees the next clash of trotting's big stars Sundees Son, Majestic Man and Bolt For Brilliance in the National Trot, Bettor Twist and La Rosa in the Fillies' Final and a very competitive NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old male pacers. Meanwhile, New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured, who misses the Auckland Cup because of a corn issue earlier in the month, heads to Cambridge on Friday week. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Majestic Man may have earned himself a crack at Australasian trotting’s richest prize with his win at Cambridge on Thursday. Because trainer Phil Williamson thinks the A$300,000 Great Southern Star is perfectly suited to New Zealand’s sprinting star. Majestic Man claimed first blood in the clashes of the big three against Sundees Son and Bolt For Brilliance in the Group 1 Turf Bar Flying Mile at Cambridge. He blasted straight to the front and was beautifully rated by Brad Williamson to trot a 1:55.8 mile and Sundees Son never really looked like catching him. Bolt For Brilliance came from last on the outer for a brave third but also never looked a winning hope. Add in his demolition job in the Flying Mile at Ashburton in October and Majestic Man is making a name for himself as a mile sensation. So while he will add to round two of the clash of the giants in the National Trot next Thursday, the What The Hill Great Southern Star on Melton’s all-trotting programme on February 5 looks perfect. The Great Southern Star reverts to its original format of two heats over 1720m and a final the same night, which looks perfect for Majestic Man, especially with his blazing early gate speed. Williamson will see how his stable star handles the National Trot next week and maybe even the Flying Stakes at Cambridge on January 8 before making any final decisions about Victoria. “But it is very tempting,” he said. “I am keen to go but when I heard they having a few more Covid problems this week I started to waver a bit. “But if that is all in Sydney and things clear up then we have to think about it because he would love the two-sprint race format.” The campaign would make sense as it sounds like very few New Zealand trotters are going and the Australian ranks are, while no pushover, far from scary. The Great Southern Star will now be held on a Friday night on an all-trotting programme the night before the Hunter Cup also at Melton.   By Michael Guerin

New Zealand's premier trainer of trotters says the national mile record could be smashed at Cambridge on Thursday night. But Phil Williamson fears while his stable star Majestic Man may set up the record, one of the other two huge names in the race may benefit most in the Group 1 Turf Bar Flying Mile. The sprint sees the first clash of Bolt For Brilliance with Sundees Son and Majestic Man, the latter pair having set national records the last two times they have raced. On both occasions Sundees Son has been able to sit outside Majestic Man and outstay him but that was over a 3200m standing start and 2200m mobile whereas Thursday is a mile around Cambridge, racing which typically suits leaders. With Majestic Man's blazing gate speed he should lead the small field and then the defining questions include whether Sundees Son handles the track, can put enough on the leader to puncture him and, if both those things eventuate, Bolt For Brilliance comes over the top of the older pair. It is a potentially delicious contest and one Williamson, the maestro of New Zealand trotting, believes could see the national mile record of 1:53.8 broken. That time was set by a rampant Marcoola at the rocket-fast Ashburton track last year but Williamson says with the three big names in Thursday's race having trotted last 800m sectionals in sub 55 seconds recently, the record is in danger. "If they go the first 800m in 57 seconds, or even 58, these horses can trot home in 55 seconds," he offers. "So you do the math. If it is a warm day, the way these horses have been breaking records — it is on." The connections of all three of the stars seem to concede Majestic Man will lead and Williamson realises this is his best chance of beating the other two but he is anything but confident. "It is hard to be confident the way Sundees Son has beaten us the last two starts. But we will give them something to chase." Sundees Son's driver John Dunn says being drawn barrier six of six doesn't worry him as he expects to settle early, work to the parked position as he has in his last two starts, and then pressure Majestic Man to outstay him. "I think he will handle the track well enough because he actually trots bends very well," says Dunn. "When you go back over his career almost all his gallops, apart from the one at Kaikoura three starts ago which wasn't his fault, have been on a straight. So I am not too worried about the track and as good a horse as Majestic Man is I think we can sit outside him and beat him again." That does however raise the scenario of Sundees Son being a sitting duck for Bolt For Brilliance, who might just be a little special. The fittest version of Bolt For Brilliance, if totally comfortable left-handed, might have been able to come off Sundees Son's back to beat him but it would seem unlikely that version can be on show with the 4-year-old not having raced for two months. The flying trotters aren't the only reason to tune in to the twilight meeting as talented three-year-old B D Joe warms up for next week's NZSB Harness Millions against smart older rivals in race 10. "It was actually my fault he got beaten at Alexandra Park last start because I don't think I had him ready enough," admits trainer Steve Telfer. "But that race has brought him on a lot and he will be a lot fitter this week."   Recipe the same for Dunn The two feature races John Dunn is chasing in the next few days could hardly be more different, but the astute reinsman says the recipe for success may ultimately be the same. Dunn steers favourite Sundees Son in the mobile mile trot on the all-weather at Cambridge whereas on Saturday he will partner another likely favourite in Belmont Major in the 3200m standing start Westport Cup on grass. "They might look very different races but Westport is a funny track and you need to get handy, like at Cambridge. And I think he (Belmont Major) is tough enough to do that." Belmont Major finished second to an open-class horse in waiting in Bad To The Bone on New Zealand Cup day and Dunn was happy with how he trialled last week. "I think he can do the work to get handy and will be hard to beat," he says. Dunn's other Boxing Day tip for Herald readers is Tas Girl Bromac (R1, No 12), who was impressive winning a recent workout.   By: Michael Guerin   Reprinted with permission of The New Zealand Herald

Champion driver Tony Herlihy is envisaging a near perfect scenario for his outstanding trotter Bolt For Brilliance in one of the races of the summer at Cambridge on Thursday. But he admits to a slight concern over whether the superstar four-year-old trotter will be fit enough to take advantage of it. Bolt For Brilliance steps into the open class big time on Thursday when he takes on the king of trotting Sundees Son and speed machine Majestic Man in the $47,500 Group 1 Turf Bar Mile. Bolt For Brilliance confirmed the highest grade holds no fears for him with a series of stunning wins in the spring, including breaking 55 seconds for his last 800m while dragging a flat sulky tyre at Alexandra Park on October 23. He overcame that disadvantage to still beat Cracker Hill, who has gone on to finish second in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All at Addington, so Bolt For Brilliance clearly has an open class motor. His slight problem on Thursday could be the fact he hasn’t raced for two months during which time Sundees Son has trotted two blistering national records and suggested he is working his way toward a place in the greats of New Zealand trotting. Herlihy had to give Bolt For Brilliance a break when he did as he has so much ahead in his four-year-old season that could run all the way through until the Jewels in June so realises his can’t have his stable star as fit as Sundees Son and Majestic Man coming off their searing recent national records. “That was probably always going to be the case for this race,” admits Herlihy. “But he had a good workout at Pukekohe on Saturday that will bring him on and he also trotted well left-handed, which he wasn’t quite as good at as a young horse.” The official workouts results suggested Bolt For Brilliance had to have a solo workout on Saturday but he in fact worked with a pacemaker so Herlihy was able to get what he wanted from the outing, with a last 400m in 27.7 seconds. “Obviously he will improve with this week and we have the National Trot next week, so he should be even better for that.” While the race has only drawn six starters it could still provide plenty of fireworks and Herlihy says that likelihood could aid his pretender to the crown. He says he doesn’t have the speed to hold Majestic Man out at the start so the Oamaru trotter looks a certain leader and unless something unusual happens Sundees Son should be outside him attacking at some stage over the last lap. “That could well happen because that is the way both horses like to race,” says Herlihy. “And if it does, and John (Dunn, driver) put the pressure on any the 500m or earlier then I’d like to be sitting off them waiting. “But it won’t be easy to win, those other two are racing very, very well.” The race isn’t the only highlight on the Cambridge card in the very next one of our best three-year-olds in B D Joe takes on the older horses including the talented Italian Lad in a prep run for next week’s NZBS Harness Millions at Alexandra Park.   by Michael Guerin

The mystery behind Triple Eight’s great form loss has been solved and that was enough to see him back in the winner’s circle at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Last season’s Auckland Cup place getter reminded us all how good he is by coming from last to win the main 2200m pace of the night, downing Mach Shard in a 1:55.4 mile rate. That was enough to win his way into the Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve after a disappointing start to the season. Punters and trainer Steve Teller knew the six-year-old should have been racing better and a diagnosis of ulcers was ultimately what it took to turn him around. “We had the vets go over him when he got back from Christchurch and ulcers were the problem,” says Telfer of Stonewall Stud. “Once we worked that out and treated them he has been a different horse. “His work has been really good and I was confident going into tonight.” Punters who took the shortening odds about Triple Eight wouldn’t have been feeling too cocky in the middle stages but the hot speed helped and driver David Butcher timed his mid-race move to perfection. That put him in control of the race from the top of the straight and with the aid of sliding blinds he concentrated all the way to the line. “He can shut off a bit when he leads so we added the blinds and he has won well,” says Telfer. He will now confirm the Auckland Cup tilt with Triple Eight’s owners but with the race lacking several of the big guns it would seem a logical aim. Mach Shard showed he can be a chance in the big race with his improved second while Gambit went his best race of this campaign in third ahead of the eyecatching Matt Damon who ran on well in his first Alexandra Park start. The other favoured runner Christianshavtime had no luck in the running and his run is best forgotten. Mach Little Soaky caused an upset for trainer-driver Matthew White when he downed La Rosa, Braeview Kelly and Italian Lad among others in a strong lower grade pace while Rain Mist And Muscle continued the great recent run for the Wallis/Hackett team when she won the major trot.   By Michael Guerin

Christianshavtime may have a good horse’s motor but it's his lack of gate speed that might make him vulnerable at Alexandra Park tonight. And that's why co-trainer Logan Hollis can’t declare him the one to beat in the $17,500 Bell Scaffolding Pace. Christianshavtime probably shouldn’t even be in the reckoning for favouritism for the main mobile pace tonight, being just a four-win horse giving away 30 rating points to Inter Dominion and Auckland Cup placegetters like Mach Shard and Triple Eight. But the combination of those horses having some form doubts and Christianshavtime blowing away far more highly-assessed horses like Tommy Lincoln and On The Cards last start suggest he can still win. Ever since he left maidens he has looked an open class horse in the making, one well capable of a 2:38 time over 2200m which will win you more races at Alexandra Park than it loses you. “We know he is pretty good,” says Hollis, who trains Christianshavtime with partner Shane Robertson. “He is a rarity for us, a horse good enough that we need to start planning his campaign six months out and working backwards from there. “His big aim is the Messenger in May so we will let him bypass the Auckland Cup this month because he has only won those four races after all but I think he showed last start he can run with some of the open class pacers.” Christianshavtime came from last in a four-horse field to beat the open class horses last start but the fact he often comes from so far back is the reason some punters will struggle to back him with confidence tonight. “He doesn’t have any gate speed which is why he races like that,” explains Hollis. “He never has had it so it means he needs the speed on in his races to win. “Take this week, he will get crossed out of the gate and if they walk and sprint he probably won’t be able to catch them but if they go hard he will get his chance.” While the December 31 Auckland Cup, with new sponsor Woodlands, will come around too quickly for Christianshavtime, three of the big names against him tonight are heading that way. Mach Shard, On The Cards and Triple Eight could all win tonight with peak efforts but their seasons have been a mixed bag, with Mach Shard the best of them so far this term having beaten Copy That and Belle Of Montana in the Spring Cup. Mach Shard and On The Cards have the gate speed to head forward and potentially lead-trail and in a race without many attackers it wouldn’t surprise to see either of them, particularly Mach Shard, get a winning break. Earlier in the night the Hollis/Roberston stable have Shezadeal stepping up sharply in grade in race one and a rare trotter in the stable in Asteria Lavra in race two. "She has the ability to win but she has real problems going away,” says Hollis. The stable is also looking forward to starting Luke John in the $200,000 NZBS Harness Million on New Years Eve as well as taking a draft of 15 to the Karaka yearling sales in February. One of the other clashes of tonight’s meeting is Italian Lad, who finally looks like fulfilling his potential up against high-class southern fillies Braeview Kelly and La Rosa in race three, with the older horse holding the advantage.

Trainer Todd Mitchell is going to Cambridge tonight hopeful rather than confident with what might be the best horse at the meeting. Cambridge host one of their biggest meetings of the season tonight, with the Dunstan-sponsored night attracting around 2000 guests for the club’s big pre-Christmas meeting before their mega Christmas Eve clash next week of Sundees Son, Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the Flying Mile Trot. Add to that the fact Self Assured could headline the club’s January 8 meeting in the Pacer’s Flying Mile and there are some exciting times ahead for the club. Tempering his excitement is local trainer Mitchell who isn’t sure what to make of his stable pacing star Lady Cherokee in tonight’s main pace. The best of Lady Cherokee is well above Cambridge Thursday night class, she won her first three starts before finishing seventh in Best Western Northern Oaks win at Alexandra Park in 2019. After a huge break away from the track she returned in September this year with the sort of mid-grade win that suggested she might be in the Queen Of Hearts last week rather than on her home track tonight. But her subsequent two starts have both been well below her best and left Mitchell scratching his head. “I couldn’t work out what was wrong with her and the vets have been right over here,” he told HRNZ. “So I have totally changed her work programme. She now does a lot of 3200m slow work and I took her to the workouts last weekend and she was okay. She also recovered better than she has been. “But I really don’t know what to expect this week. I know she would probably win at her best but I am hopeful.” Mitchell says the daughter of Sir Lincoln will need some degree of luck as she will probably settle midfield, with some gate speed drawn down low. “She can win but I couldn’t be tipping her.” The Mike Berger-trained pair of Eagle Watch and About Turn look the pair for Lady Cherokee to beat if she is going to return to anything like her best. Berger also looks to have one of the best placed horses of the night in All Yours who drops a long way back in grade in the last of the eight races, gets barrier two and an in-form Zac Butcher so looks one of the bets of the night.   By Michael Guerin

Harness racing fans have been handed an early Christmas present with the elite pacers surprisingly set to have an A$1million race to decide who is Australasia’s best. NSW harness officials confirmed yesterday the Miracle Mile set for Menangle outside Sydney on March 6 will be run for A$1million just months after they thought they may have to halve the stake. Already stakes in many key pacing races have been reduced due to the economic impact of Covid while the Inter Dominions which were to have been held in Sydney this month were delayed a year. But after better than expected results in recent month’s Menangle boss Bruce Christison confirmed yesterday the super sprint will break the seven-figure mark. “We are thrilled to be able to keep it at that level,” says Christison. And that will be enough not only to confirm the Miracle Mile as being worth almost twice as much as any other harness race in Australasia but to attract the best possible field. New Zealand and Australia’s best pacers have been segregated for much of the last year because of travel restrictions so the likes of Self Assured and Spankem haven’t been taking on Aussie heroes Lochinvar Art and King Of Swing. With the Miracle Mile stake confirmed and the New Zealand open class season tapering off dramatically after the Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve, the best Kiwi pacers have a very obvious target to aim for, with perhaps the main question being whether Copy That will now target the big money instead of staying home. Trainer Mark Purdon was already looking to take Self Assured and Spankem to the Miracle Mile carnival before he takes a step away from training in 2021 but he was also considering the Hunter Cup in Melbourne. But with the Menangle news the Miracle Mile that is certain to be the main focus of the glamour pacers. Lochnivar Art has emerged as the most exciting pacer in Australia since arch rival Ride High’s season was ended by leg issues but King Of Swing finished the season on a high by winning his third Grand Circuit race of 2020 in the A$175,000 Blacks A Fake in Brisbane on Saturday night. So all four could end up in the Miracle Mile, a race both King Of Swing (this year) and Spankem (2019) have won before. King Of Swing’s win on Saturday not only confirmed him as the Australian Grand Circuit champion for 2020 but capped a stunning weekend for his Waikato-based mare Twist And Twirl. She is also the dam of New Zealand’s best three-year-old pacing filly Bettor Twist who staged a remarkable performance to win the Woodlands Stud Caduceus Club Classic at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The exceptional filly looked beaten at the 400m but rallied hard late to down leader La Rosa in the style of an Oaks winner in waiting. Bettor Twist has won six of her nine starts starts and is rated a $1.35 by the TAB to make it another group one at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve. Mares leaving two separate group one winners in the same season is rare enough, two within 28 hours is special stuff. Sadly for owners Breckon Farms, Twist And Twirl lost her Bettors Delight colt born just two weeks ago, with the colt potentially one of the most valuable born in Australasia this harness season. But they will take an A Rocknroll Dance colt out of Twist And Twirl to the Karaka yearling sales in February. All of last Friday’s other key winners are now favourites with the TAB for their group ones and feature races coming up at Alexandra Park’s huge New Year’s Eve twilight meeting. Spankem is rated a a $2.80 chance for the Auckland Cup, American Dealer a $3.20 shot in the NZBS Harness Million while Sundees Son, who trotted a national record for 2200m sitting parked last Friday, is now $1.95 to win the National Trot.   by Michael Guerin

John Dunn’s coy smile tells the real story. Because you get the feeling deep down inside he thinks his superstar trotter Sundees Son is ready to defend the title of New Zealand’s best trotter. He sure looked ready when he nonchalantly sat parked outside Majestic Man to win the Lyell Creek Stakes at Alexandra Park on Friday night in national record time for the 2200m mobile. It was remarkable stuff as Dunn seemed to be uber confident Sundees Son could sit outside a very good rival and beat him, with most importantly Sundees Son handling Alexandra Park like a pro in his first start there in 19 months. That will be crucial come the National Trot on December 31 when the opposition goes up another level, as it will in the Flying Mile at Cambridge in December 24. Because that is when Sundees Son will meet the pretender to his crown Bolt For Brilliance for the first time. The latter was trotting similarly stunning sectionals winning his feature races at Alexandra Park in September and October and the pair going head to head twice in a week with Majestic Man to keep them honest could be the highlight of the entire northern summer. But ask Dunn if he thinks Sundees Son can sit parked outside Bolt For Brilliance as regularly as he does Majestic Man and he plays the politician. “It won’t be easy,” he says at first. “We know how good Bolt For Brilliance is….. but then again Majestic Man is a pretty good horse in front and we beat him easy enough.” The last statement suggests he thinks as good, maybe great as Bolt For Brilliance is, he is going to need to be something special to beat Sundees Son. He is right. Dunn says most encouragingly Sundees Son showed no signs of losing his gait, or even wobbling, around Alexandra Park’s tricky last bend at record speed so as in this form the home track advantage may not be a huge factor for Bolt For Brilliance. The latter goes to the workouts this week and trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is pleased with his progress. On a night of stunning wins the feature-race fireworks were started by American Dealer who blew past his rivals to win the Alabar Classic and seal favouritism for the NZBS Harness Millions on December 31. It was the first time he has been dominant coming from well off the speed and hard to please driver David Butcher was impressed. “He is just a lil pro and a lovely horse to drive,” says Butcher. “He just loves it out there, loves racing and cops it so well. “But that was big tonight. He has gone super.”   by Michael Guerin

Punters may have been stunned by Beyond Words beating our best mare in the Rosslands Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park on Friday night but the All Stars weren’t. The unheralded mare headlined a wonderful night for the soon to be greatly-altered stable in which they won four races, including the Woodlands Stud Caduceus Club Classic with Bettor Twist and the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup with Spankem. Neither of those wins were unexpected but they were both hard fought yet the win that shocked most was Beyond Words outstaying Amazing Dream in the Group One mares race. Having just her eighth start, Beyond Words got the lead off her stablemate mid-race as Mark Purdon, driving Amazing Dream, probably thought he would be able to outsprint her up the passing lane. But when Amazing Dream came up the passing lane the leader held her at bay to cap a remarkable first campaign that has seen her progress from maiden on August 7 to Group One winner. Callie’s Dream was a valuable third for her connections with a Group One placing next to her name now when she heads to the breeding barn. For winning driver and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen, Beyond Words’s win brought a sense of pride as much as surprise. “I did think Amazing Dream might run her down but we have always really liked this mare,” says Rasmussen. “When she was a two-year-old we thought she had the ability of Sweet On Me and Amazing Dream but she kept getting sore, which we later diagnosed as bruising in her bones because she was still maturing. “Her owner Brian West was really great through that period, always agreeing to give her more time when she needed it. “So to see her develop into such a good mare now makes us very proud.” So rapid has Beyond Words’s rise been Rasmussen sees no reason she couldn’t join Amazing Dream on a plane to Australia in the New Year to chase a Group One there and a super fast mile time around Menangle. Amazing Dream will first head to the Auckland Cup but her defeat cost her joint favouritism for that race in which she has drifted from $2.90 to $4. That was also due to what Spankem did 30 minutes later when he came from a 30m handicap to win the Franklin Cup, a victory that propelled him to $2.40 Auckland Cup favouritism. He had to sprint hard late as he was three back on the outer starting the 27-second last 400m and clawed his way past Thefixer, who was good from the one-one and Ashley Locaz, who did a huge job after sitting parked the last lap. Copy That was never a winning chance from last in the sprint home but made good ground in the last 200m and should be a different horse closer to the speed so his Cup chances are anything but over. But Spankem has emerged as clearly the horse to beat in the big one on December 31, having the manners and also developing an outstanding Alexandra Park big race record. “He went super because they only really sprinted that last 300m so he had to pick up some good horses,” says Rasmussen. With Self Assured confirmed as out of the Cup, the most likely additions to the race from those who didn’t start on Friday night is Classie Brigade, who has been nominated and could seal a start by winning the Green Mile at Methven on Sunday, while Triple Eight could also be a Cup starter. The All Stars other Group One winner was the magnificent Bettor Twist, whose never say die attitude saw her out scrap La Rosa after being off the bit at the 400m. It was a superb staying effort, something we are getting used to from Bettor Twist, but this performance was even a level above her Sires’ Stakes win of three starts ago. It capped a special week for driver Tim Williams who with wife Aimee Edmonds became parents for the second time on Wednesday with the birth of son No.2, Levi. “It has been an amazing week with Levi arriving and then that win was something special,” says Williams. “She tries so hard and never knows when to give up.” While La Rosa was brave in second and Darling Me and and Braeview Kelly later in the night also more than solid, it will take something special to out-tough Bettor Twist come the Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championship on December 31.   by Michael Guerin

Two of Alexandra Park’s long lost sons could dominate the open class features at tonight’s premier meeting but that may have to do that the hard way. Sundees Son (R4, No.6) and Spankem (R7, No.8) share the quite incredible record of both having not raced at Alexandra Park since May 3 last year when they each won Group One races. When Sundees Son blew away his Rowe Cup trotting rivals that night and Spankem held Turn It Up at bay in the Messenger it would seem extremely unlikely neither would return to Alexandra Park until tonight. But soreness issues which flared up for both during Cup week in Christchurch last year saw them sidelined for much of last season. They have come back as good as ever this season, in the case of Sundees Son maybe better, and their form line synergy continued when they were both able to win their first group ones in over a year on Show Day at Addington last month. That suggests they are the horses to beat in their respective open class group races tonight but both are likely to get back in their fields, especially Spankem off his 30m handicap in the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup. Winning major races off a back mark at Alexandra Park is never easy but Spankem is aided by the fact it is a smallish field and there are no horses off the 20m mark so if he steps well he could tag on to the 10m horses without too many traffic concerns. Trainer Mark Purdon was thrilled with how Spankem worked on Monday morning and while the likes of South Coast Arden, Tommy Lincoln, Check In and even Kango could contribute to a genuine tempo, over 2700m the back markers might still have too much class. Spankem isn’t the sole standout of them though as Copy That has been enormous on his home track this season even if he has looked more vulnerable when asked to come wide on the track over the last lap. The sectionals say he can be forgiven for his defeat last Friday but he will need to raise his game by a length or so tonight to suggest he is still in the top echelon of Auckland Cup hopes. Thefixer, who was a booming last-start second to Spankem in the NZ Free-For-All and Ashley Locaz add to the depth of the backmarkers team. While Sundees Son won’t be giving away a 30m start driver John Dunn is almost certain he will be spotting arch rival Majestic Man a decent start early in the Lonestar Lyell Creek. The 2200m mobile will be Sundees Son’s first start behind the mobile in over a season and while he has drawn inside Majestic Man, Dunn says he will take it easy and settle the favourite early. “I don’t like to bustle him so Majestic Man looks the leader but we have shown we can sit parked outside him and beat him,” says Dunn. While he has won only 3 of 10 starts at Alexandra Park many of those defeats were as an erratic younger horse whereas he has been stronger and safer for much of this season. “The way he is trotting I don’t think right-handed will bother him, after all he has won two huge races here before,” says Dunn. “So the track doesn’t concern me and he has been working at the beach up here, like he does at home, and that is a real advantage.” While the best horses in the race having to come from back suggest some real fireworks in the open class races, the $95,000 Queen Of Hearts might be the opposite with Amazing Dream likely to lead and win. That could make Enchantee a great place or even quinella bet as she has drawn barrier two and the only mare on the second line Smokinhotcheddar is on the unruly so there should be a huge gap for Enchantee early trail the favourite is Amazing Dream holds that lead. The clash of the three-year-old boys in the Alabar Classic is a beauty with early tempo the key while La Rosa comes north to take on Bettor Twist, with their lead battle crucial in their outcome.   By Michael Guerin - NZ Herald

Self Assured’s defence of the Auckland Trotting Cup hangs by a thread and even that could be cut today. Last month’s New Zealand Cup winner was the favourite to defend the Auckland Cup he won last December at Alexandra Park this New Year’s Eve but trainer Mark Purdon now fears he won’t get that chance. The five-year-old developed a corn on Saturday that means he will miss the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup at Alexandra Park this Friday and Purdon will decide tomorrow whether Self Assured can resume normal work any time this week. If he can’t his Cup defence on December 31 will be over. “He is more likely to not be starting in the Auckland Cup right now than he is to be starting,” Purdon told the Herald. “The corn only came up on Saturday but the timing was bad because it means he misses this week’s race. “If, and it is a big if, I can start working him again soon then he could race at Alexandra Park on Friday week and then still make the Cup. “But if he can’t race there then obviously the Cup is gone because he hasn’t raced since the New Zealand Cup (November 10).” While Purdon has pulled off more than his share of training miracles before he looks up against it this time, especially as rushing into a hard 3200m on a light prep could undo Self Assured’s Australian campaign. Self Assured is being set long-term for the Miracle Mile at Menangle in March but if he misses the Auckland Cup the Hunter Cup at Melton in Victoria in February becomes an option on the way to Sydney, especially as Self Assured in owned in Victoria. But Auckland’s loss could also be Cambridge’s gain because if Self Assured misses the Cup the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 8 becomes a logical resumption point. News the double Cups winner is doubtful soon reached TAB bookies on Monday and Self Assured was replaced at the head of the Auckland Cup market by stablemates Spankem and Amazing Dream, who now share the top line at $2.90, ahead of Copy That at $3.20. Spankem will have his first Alexandra Park start in 19 months when he contests the Franklin Cup off a 30m handicap on Friday, with Purdon thrilled with his training on Monday morning. New Zealand Cup beaten favourite Copy That is also in the Franklin Cup, with trainer Ray Green expecting him to take improvement from his surprise defeat to stablemate Tommy Lincoln in the Summer Cup last Friday. There are likely to be 10 starters in the Franklin Cup and there may only be 11 in the Auckland Cup because while Triple Eight and Amazing Dream are likely to join those in Friday’s field come Cup time, Tommy Lincoln will not be asked to start over 3200m. “I think he is better sticking to the shorter trips at this stage” says Green. Amazing Dream will contest the Queen of Hearts this week against her own sex before stepping back into open class against the boys for the Auckland Cup but it is surprising she shares favouritism with Spankem when she has only had one open class start in this country. Spankem won’t be the only open class star returning to Alexandra Park after a 19-month break as Sundees Son is in the Lyell Creek Trot this Friday and he hasn’t raced in Auckland since winning the Rowe Cup on May 3 last year, the same night Spanken won the Messenger in his last Auckland start.   by Michael Guerin

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