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Jason Lee will go to work at Menangle on Saturday night for a smile on his face. Because sitting behind speed machine Jilliby Kung Fu in the $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile will be payback time. “As a teenager being involved in harness racing I missed a lot of birthday parties, nights out with my mates and things like that hoping one day I would get to the top,” says the 22-year-old Victorian. “I never thought I’d be driving in a Miracle Mile at this age, not even a few weeks ago. “So to be in the middle of it will be special and I am going to enjoy it. “I have been really busy this week but I have also allowed myself the chance to think that we are going to the big dance and smile about it. I mean, it is the Miracle Mile after all.” The big dance is even more special for Lee because Jilliby Kung Fu is a family horse, trained by his mother Marg in a set-up where parents, uncles and cousins all pitch in to help. Jilliby Kung Fu was racing in the Victoria intermediate grade just six weeks ago and Lee was happy to make the Chariots Of Fire on February 10. Once there the young gun pair crossed their rivals easily and paced a 1:48.8 mile, earning them not only an invite to Saturday night’s race but plenty of respect. The plan on Saturday night is to come out humming — a Lee special — and give Jilliby Kung Fu a chance of crossing to the lead. If he does that he could cap a fairytale rise to the top of the pacing world. “We are going there to give him his shot, because you never know when you will get back to this level. “But we also know how good these horses are. We have all seen Lazarus and what a freak he is and I even think a horse like My Field Marshal could be the smoky in the race.” The Miracle Mile is just one of six group ones at Saturday night’s mega meeting, including both the NSW Derby and Oaks. Smart customer Jilliby Kung Fu at full stretch. Picture: Stuart McCormick By Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of The Daily Telegraph

Champion harness racing pacer Lazarus’s star is starting to shine brighter again just in time for Saturday night’s $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. But trainer Mark Purdon still isn’t certain it will be enough for a horror week to end in glory. Lazarus has been a huge drifter in Miracle Mile markets after he was beaten into third in his prelude last Saturday, troubled by the lingering effects of a virus. Purdon has spent almost every waking minute with the superstar pacer this week as he tries to become the first horse to win harness racing’s Grand Slam of the New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion, Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile in the same season. And the Hall Of Fame trainer says the signs are very encouraging. “His blood report suggests his health is back to normal,” Purdon said. “And he worked well on Thursday morning, like he was back to normal. “But it is a bit of a trick with him that he is not a sensational trackworker because he is so laid back. “He is not one of those aggressive horses in his work that he will do something stunning by himself. “So because of that you never see the best, or anything really stressing, from him in work. “But he felt good, definitely not like there was anything off, so he will be better than last week.” What punters want to know is whether the version of Lazarus who was so crushing in the first three legs of the Grand Slam will turn up at Menangle on Saturday night?  “I’d love to say yes but I can’t say I am as confident I was before the other races because of his setback. “I am pretty sure he will run in three and he can definitely win but what I don’t know is what affect the last 10 days will have on him and whether he will be able to pace 1:47 coming from wide on the track.” The Miracle Mile is at 9.32pm this Saturday. Michael Guerin    

Harness racing’s greatest trainer Mark Purdon has sacked himself off champion pacer Lazarus for Saturday’s $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. And he says putting partner Natalie Rasmussen on the Mile favourite gives all involved their best chance. “It wasn’t a hard choice to make,” said Purdon, who has driven Lazarus to win two New Zealand Cups, an Inter Dominion, as well as the Hunter Cup earlier this month. “Obviously our team had a little bug through them last week and they didn’t race up to our expectations, and with that in mind, I want to concentrate on getting the best out of them this week. “That means me doing my job as a trainer to 100 per cent and I think if I am busy doing that then I might only do an 85 per cent job on the driving front. “This way Natalie can concentrate on the driving and make those decisions and I will handle the training details.” Rasmussen is best-known as the former trainer-driver of Blacks A Fake, who won almost every major race in Australia, except the Miracle Mile. But she finally snared the Miracle win two years ago with an inch-perfect drive on Have Faith In Me, who she co-trained with Purdon, who nosed out Lennytheshark in an Australasian record 1:47.5. Rasmussen owns the two fastest winning miles in Australasian history, having also driven Adore Me when she paced 1:47.7 winning the Ladyship Mile a year earlier. Champion pacer Lazarus will be aiming to bounce back from a shock defeat at Menangle last weekend. Picture: Ashlea Brennan. Her aggressive style, which often sees her launch between the 1200m and 800m poles and keep running hard is perfectly suited to Menangle’s big miles, not that Purdon thinks she drives there better than anywhere else. “She is a great driver on any track, simple as that,” he said. Exactly what version of Lazarus Purdon hands over to Rasmussen on Saturday night is hard to predict after his brave but well-beaten third behind Tiger Tara last Saturday. He was feeling the lingering effects of a virus which a blood report on Tuesday suggests is now gone, but Purdon is cautious. “The best thing I can go on is his blood report and it was a lot better so we should be able to get a good week into him,” Purdon said. “And the rain we had overnight on Monday helped settle the dust, which will also help. “But I will know more after he fast works on Thursday. I am confident he will be close to his peak on Saturday night but there is no money-back guarantees.” MIRACLE MILE Menangle, Saturday night 1: Tiger Tara (1) 2: Atomic Red (2) 3: Anything For Love (3) 4: My Field Marshal (4) 5: Jilliby Kung Fu (5) 6: Soho Tribeca (6) 7: Lennytheshark (7) 8: Charlaval (8) 9: Let It Ride (9) 10: Lazarus (10) Emergencies: Let It Ride, Atomic Red. LATEST BETTING: TAB FIXED ODDS Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of The Daily Telegraph

Mark Purdon isn’t expecting his rivals to simply give champion pacer Lazarus his $100,000 Miracle Mile prelude at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday night. But he would also still be surprised if his harness racing superstar was beaten. Lazarus is rated a $1.20 chance after drawing the ace in the second of the two preludes which will decide the remaining seven invitations to next Saturday’s $750,000 Mile. After dominant wins in the Inter Dominion, New Zealand and Hunter Cups this summer, Lazarus should win again but Purdon has resigned himself to his rival drivers generally making it tactically tricky for the five-year-old. And with Lazarus not blessed with the same blazing gate speed of some of his Australian rivals, Saturday night’s mile may not simply be a case of lead and win. “Obviously I’d love to be in front from the draw but they can leave the gate very quickly here in Sydney so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of them have a look,” says Purdon. “I think we should be able to hold Tiger Tara, who we have seen quite a bit of this summer, but a horse like Mach Doro could come off hard. “But if we get crossed I think they will have to go so fast to do it we can come off the markers straight away.” Considering Lazarus has sat parked in his two biggest Australian wins this season, he should be able to do so again if needed. Purdon will be in for a very different experience with Heaven Rocks in the first prelude where he could settle near last in a race Soho Tribeca should be able to control either in front or parked, making him the best bet. Saturday night’s meeting also sees heats of the NSW Oaks and Derby, with the barrier draw for the Miracle Mile to be held on Sunday around 1pm.  Michael Guerin

Trainer Michael Stanley believes Soho Tribeca gets the perfect dress rehearsal for next week’s Miracle Mile in his prelude at Menangle on Saturday night. The Victorian horseman brings the Hunter Cup runner-up to Menangle with the same ambition as all the trainers in the preludes, to snare one of the seven remaining spots in next week’s $750,000 glamour sprint. But Stanley’s bid has a little more edge because his five-year-old is seen as maybe the best chance of upsetting Kiwi champion Lazarus in next week’s thriller. Not only was he enormous coming from the outside of the second line to push Lazarus close in the Hunter Cup at Melton two weeks ago but he led and beat him in the opening heat of the Perth Inter Dominion in late November. Stanley wasn’t training Soho Tribeca then but like everybody in harness racing he realises the best way to beat Lazarus is to get in front of him, especially over a mile. “I don’t think you can come from behind him and beat him unless he has a bit of bad luck,” says Stanley. “So if we are going to beat him next week I think our best chance is to lead and make him do the work.” Which is why Saturday night sets up so perfectly for Soho Tribeca and driver Greg Sugars. They start from barrier four in the first of the two $100,000 preludes, with key rivals Lennytheshark (seven) and Heaven Rocks (out of draw) facing a lot tougher tasks. So Sugars can push the go button early and try and dictate to them, much as Stanley would like to see him do to Lazarus next week. “We get our chance this week to show them what we can do and not being in Lazarus’s heat is a big help. “So I’d love to see him in front, like I would next week.” If he finds that position tomorrow night it will take a stunning effort from any of his rivals to beat the $2 top elect. Later in the night Stanley expects his exciting filly Soho Burning Love to excel in the second heat of the NSW Oaks. “I think she’s got as good a chance as any of not only winning the heat, but the final as well,” he said. “She’s won all three runs really well this campaign and she will definitely be sharper than when she was Hunter Cup night. “She missed a lead-up run at Kilmore before Hunter Cup night and she blew quite hard after the race. “She’s a really good filly this one. Very strong. She’ll love the 2400m and I think it could find some of them out.” Michael Guerin

As harness racing sales week approaches the men behind New Zealand's biggest club are starting to believe the once impossible dream. And they say it could be reality inside three years. The sales kick off at Karaka on Monday with the stronger Australasian Classic Sale before a new format in Christchurch which sees a parade and trotters-only sale on Tuesday and 250 lots on Wednesday. But Karaka has become the hotbed of the three days, with more Australian interest and, because of a smaller catalogue, less lulls. While the sale will be strong, especially in demand for Bettors Delight and Art Major colts, Auckland Trotting Club bosses are hoping the dawning reality of what lies ahead at Alexandra Park will be enough to attract new buyers. The club has the very rare advantage of having businesspeople who are also long-time breeders and horse people on their board, giving them a handle on how one side of the industry feeds the other. And that menu is about to get a lot bigger. With Alexandra Park's first real estate developments expected to be finished by the end of this year the club is rumoured to be considering a stake structure with $15,000 maidens, $20,000 next grade races and $25,000 mid to higher level races at every Friday meeting. And that is expected to rise every year after, with an average stake of $25,000 per race at all meetings now realistic in four years. "While we can't outline the exact figures we are committed to an extra $40,000 in stakes every meeting next year and to keep increasing that," says ATC president Bruce Carter. Carter did not dismiss the figures mentioned above. Those sort of numbers would give the Alexandra Park and Karaka relationship a ratio unheard of for a major sale anywhere else in the world. The average yearling price at Karaka last season was around $38,000 but that is enormously propped up by Australian buyers looking for New Zealand's best. The actual average price paid by domestic buyers would be way lower, around the $25,000 mark. Which means the average price of buying a standardbred yearling in Auckland will by the time most of them are racing be the same as the average stake for a harness race in the city, which when you have a very strong sale is remarkable. "We are aware that is the sort of thing we have to aim at, to make racing horses viable," says Carter. "Our board know the sums of racing so we are determined to see money go into stakes. "That helps the sales but also goes into the pocket of all owners and trainers and for us it is not a case of if it will happen, but when." The remarkable ratio could make buying standardbreds a viable racing option for most chasing anything but the top lots, which on Monday are likely to be those sons, and occasional daughters, of Bettors Delight. The sales parade starts at 2.30pm tomorrow with first lot through the ring at 10.30am on Monday. Michael Guerin If you want to buy a winner then the odds are in your favour, big time, when you buy a yearling from the Breckon Farms draft at the 2018 Australasian Classic Yearling Sale. There is no doubt that this years Australasian Classic Yearling Sale is the best Catalogue of yearlings ever produced in New Zealand. Be there. To view the Australasian Classic Yearling Sale catalogue click on this link. To view the entire Breckon Farms yearlings click on this link. Art Major hits $170,000,000 in earnings Muscle Hill - World's greatest trotting sire Speedster He’s Watching a life-changer Golden cross, Andover Hall - Muscles Yankee Generational speed 1:47.4 ---- 1:46.4 The Australasian Classic Yearling Sale You need a Somebeachsomewhere filly How to buy a millionairess! This stallion has 14 colts in 1:48.4 or faster 1,846 winners for Art Major Golden cross, Bettor's Delight x Christian Cullen

Harness racing trainer Tim Butt has his insurance policy heading into Saturday night’s $200,000 Chariots of Fire at Menangle -- his brother. Butt prepares the big post-draw shortener Let It Ride in the four-year-old Group 1 mile, with the exciting pacer securing the ace. Butt, who has only been training at Menangle for a few months after making a surprise move from his New Zealand homeland, admits the draw could be good or bad. And that is where his brother, champion driver Anthony comes in. Anthony has driven Let It Ride six times for five wins and the only time they were beaten was a second to subsequent SA Cup winner Shadow Sax. He is also the leading ever driver of Grand Circuit winners, well clear of Mark Purdon, and between them the Butt brothers have won almost every race that matters in Australasia. “Having Ants on him in a Group 1 gives me so much confidence,” says Butt “I have actually been really happy with my regular driver Chris Geary and I think he has great hands but Ants has been doing it at the highest level for decades.” Butt says that could be important because while many punters will expect Let It Ride to lead, there could be plenty of early speed before the other favourites Jilliby Kung Fu and Atomic Red coming pouring the pressure on. “Leading would be good but so would trailing one of the good horses and Ants can make that decision based on the early sectionals. “But the horse is ready to do the job and has options.” Butt is enjoying his new life in New South Wales, with 12 horses in work and on his way to his capacity of 18. “I just needed a change and have always wanted to give living here a crack. We are loving it. “And to have one of the favourites in this race is a real bonus because just a month ago it looked like Vincent and Ultimate Machete were going to dominate this.” That pair both broke down, leaving three main chances at the head of Saturday night’s market, all probably feeling they have been gifted a Group 1 shot. Jilliby Kung Fu was awesome winning his qualifying race at Melton and won’t need to perform much better Saturday night, with his racing style suited to Menangle even though he is yet to race there. And Atomic Red is one of the brightest staying hopes in NSW and judging by his prelude win three weeks ago he could easily break 1:50. *A newcomer to the Butt team Saturday night is Afterdinnerspeaker (R3) but he is only set to arrive in the country on Friday. By Michael Guerin

The news is good for fans of harness racing champion pacer Lazarus - not so good for his rivals. The Inter Dominion champion has thrilled trainer Mark Purdon with how he has recovered from the hoof problems that threatened to ruin his $1.5 million summer and says he is confident the Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup is back on the agenda. Lazarus threw feature race markets into chaos when Purdon revealed on Sunday the great pacer was tender in his hooves after a jaw-dropping second in last Friday night’s Fremantle Cup, when he was three-wide throughout the race. Initially Purdon was concerned the problem could keep Lazarus off the training track for a few weeks and cost him valuable fitness heading toward the $500,000 A. G. Hunter Cup at Melton on February 3 and the $750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle three weeks later. But, after just three days off, Lazarus has shown enormous improvement and Purdon was able to jog him in Perth this morning. “I was never going to be sure how long it would take until I had a few days with him but he has improved a lot,” said Purdon. “I was able to get him back jogging today and I am now far more confident he will get to the Hunter Cup and then Menangle for the prelude and hopefully the Miracle Mile. So I’d expect to be in both of those.” That will see Lazarus firmly at the head of markets for both races after most bookmakers suspended markets on the two great races when news of his problems broke. He will, however, miss Friday night’s West Australian Cup as will stablemate Ultimate Machete. The four-year-old was also foot sore after finishing fourth in the Fremantle Cup and Purdon says he will now be set for the Chariots Of Fire in Sydney on February 10. In their absence former Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me (barrier four) will be the New Zealand rep in the West Australian Cup. Michael Guerin

Champion New Zealand pacer Lazarus's $2m summer is in doubt after he has been struck down by soreness. The magnificent stallion is out of this Friday's West Australian Cup and there have to be doubts over his participation in both the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile next month until co-trainer Mark Purdon knows the extent of the hoof problems. Lazarus produced one of the great modern day pacing performances in defeat when second after being three wide for the entire Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park in Perth on Friday night (Saturday morning NZ time). He covered up to 50m more than some of his opponents but was only grabbed late by NZ-bred pacer My Hard Copy, with his effort stunning even the most pragmatic members of the harness racing industry. But Purdon's pride in his champion turned to concern over the weekend after Lazarus started to feel the effects of the run. "He was fine the next morning and went out into the paddock tired but with no real problems," Purdon told the Herald. "But when I brought him back in about an hour and a half later because of the heat, he was quite sore in the hooves. "And that didn't improve when we put him back in his box or today (Sunday) like we hoped it would and he is still sore now. "We have had the vet to him and we are pretty sure it is in his hooves and probably a concussion thing from the race. "But we won't know exactly how bad it is and whether that is all that is wrong until we have a few more days with him. "So it has come as a bit of a shock but at this stage the vet thinks it is related to a hard run on the hard track." Purdon did not think the brutally hard run Lazarus had on Friday night was the reason for his problems. "I think even if he had an easier run and won he would have been sore afterwards. I just think the track has got to his hooves." The five-year-old, who was sensational winning the Inter Dominion in Perth last month, will be swum this week to try and maintain his fitness while he is kept off the track. "But the WA Cup this week is definitely gone for him and the next target will be the Hunter Cup. "We definitely haven't give up getting him to that and we have nearly three weeks but it is also not certain he will make it. "It is all a bit up in the air at the moment." The two-time New Zealand Cup winner was the hot favourite for not only the WA and Hunter Cups, the latter at Melton on February 3, but the A$750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 24. "I hope by Miracle Mile time he will be fine, unless there was something else wrong with him, but obviously we can't guarantee that." Fremantle Cup If Lazarus does miss the A$500,000 Hunter Cup the Purdon-Rasmussen stable will still have Heaven Rocks in the race, with the latter set to make his Australian debut in the Ballarat Cup this Saturday. But the stable will resist any temptation to step Auckland Cup winner Vincent up to the Hunter Cup as Lazarus's replacement. "Vincent has the Chariots Of Fire at Menangle the week after so I don't think we would target the Hunter with him but at this stage we are still hoping to have Laz there." Stablemate Ultimate Machete also pulled up slightly sore after his fourth in the Fremantle Cup but nowhere as bad as Lazarus. "He was like that for a few days after he won the Golden Nugget here last month too but I still very much expect him to make it to the Chariots Of Fire on Feb 10 and race on this campaign." Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Three white pieces of paper covered in scribbled nicknames hold the key to over $5 million of summer harness racing riches. And the first plans contained on those papers go into action this Friday night with a surprise at Cambridge and a champion in Perth. After a complete domination of Sunday’s Auckland Trotting Cup meeting - where they won seven of nine races they contested - Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen sat down yesterday to plan where their army of pacing stars go next. The logistics are mind-boggling, with not just tens of millions of dollars of horseflesh heading to all parts of Australasia, requiring flights, ground transportation and handlers, but the bookings for all the staff who need to be in New South Wales and Victoria weeks before the racetrack action starts. An example: While Vincent and his stablemates were running the trifecta in the Auckland Cup, the stable had Lazarus, Ultimate Machete, Have Faith In Me and Piccadilly Princess having a quiet day in Perth, where the All Stars have had a traveling foreman for six weeks. That is where Lazarus will resume on Friday night before he races there the following two weeks, with Ultimate Machete and Have Faith In Me joining him in both the Fremantle and West Australia Cups. “He is working well so this week will be a perfect lead-up to the Cups for him,” says Purdon, who is back from suspension to drive Lazarus on Friday night. The blueprint for the rest of the all-conquering stable was only confirmed yesterday and it has some calls which will impact dramatically on pre-post markets as well as the group one racing landscape. The only good news for Australian trainers is the already expected decisions that unbeaten three-year-old Chase Auckland will stay home, as does Elle Mac, while Dream About Me also does as she struggles with soundness. “Chase Auckland has had a couple of hard runs and been great in them but you can’t do that every week so he will miss the Derbys in Victoria and NSW and be set for the Northern Derby here,” explains Purdon. “And Dream About Me hasn’t been quite right so won’t go to Australia but we will have Piccadilly Princess and Partyon for the mares races over there.” Even without Chase Auckland the three-year-old team for the Derbys in Australia will contain The Devils Own and All U Need Is Faith (NSW), Spankem and Ashley Locaz (Victoria and then possibly NSW). But the other big surprise is that Heaven Rocks will take his unique brand of crazy to both Victoria and NSW, after stopping in at Cambridge on Friday night for the $60,000 Flying Mile. “I was happy with him in the Auckland Cup and after Cambridge he will go to the Ballarat Cup and the Hunter Cup, with Laz going to the Hunter as well. “Then they will both go to NSW to try and qualify for the Miracle Mile.” Vincent and Titan Banner will be waiting for their mates at Menangle, with the pair to skip Victoria and Vincent will race in lead ups to the Chariots Of Fire on February 10 and Titan Banner in free-for-alls before the Miracle Mile preludes on February 17. That raises the very real possibility if Ultimate Machete qualifies for the Chariots Of Fire and races well there, the All Stars could have five horses in the running for a Miracle Mile invite. “It is possible that could happen but we are not getting carried away with that, there is a lot of racing to go before then,” said Purdon. The one window of opportunity the stable has left open for their rivals is the NSW Oaks, for which they won’t have their best fillies in action. “It clashes with the Sales Series at Addington so fillies like Elle Mac will stay home and Bettor Trix and Bare Knuckle will be our NSW Oaks pair.” Heaven Rocks - Mcmillan Feeds 4yo $150,000 Emerald (Mobile Pace) By Michael Guerin

Excitement is ramping up for Auckland harness racing’s biggest race of the year - the $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve. Known as the race of champions, in the past it has been won by sporting greats such as Cardigan Bay, Young Quinn, Christian Cullen, Elsu and Themightyquinn. Alexandra Park is again promising some of New Zealand’s best racing combined with a growing number of free off-track attractions. Racing Manager Regan Cotter says the Auckland Trotting Club’s focus is now well and truly on the big one – an afternoon of exhilarating Group One racing on 31 December. “For the Auckland Cup itself, we’re confident the field will be one of the best and most competitive we’ve had in years. The Group One National Trot will also be a real battle of the titans. “With over $800,000 in stakes on offer for the big day, we can’t wait to see all the action on track under the glorious Auckland sun. New Year’s Eve simply promises to be one mouth-watering event with many fighting it out for Group One glory,” says Mr Cotter. Trackside presenter Michael Guerin believes the Auckland Trotting Club has gotten its Auckland Cup concept spot on, delivering top level racing but with the relaxed feel of a summer holiday meeting. He says the move back to a 3200m standing start Auckland Cup has been a massive success. He agrees the National Trot will also be a show-stopper and believes it will be “the strongest trotting race in New Zealand so far this season.”  Alexandra Park Sales & Marketing Manager Joel Reichardt says the interest and anticipation in this year’s Auckland Cup Day has been huge, with dining packages nearly all sold out. He says they’re expecting possibly the biggest crowd they’ve seen for some time if the weather is fine, helped by the fact that general admission, car-parking, race books and entertainment – both on and off the track - are all free. With the gates set to open from 2pm, there will be food trucks, ice creams, a bouncy castle, face painting and much more. Then after the last race there will be a fireworks’ display and a performance by band Split Second. “This is a perfect family event as there’ll be so much for parents and so much for children to all enjoy. We’ve brought back the fireworks which promises to be awesome, and will be set off just on dark, so people don’t have to wait around until midnight to celebrate New Year,” says Mr Reichardt. For further information on 2017 Auckland Cup Day, visit Alexandra Park CEO Dominique Dowding: (021) 377-303 or Joel Reichardt – Sales & Marketing Manager - (021) 786-034.

The King of Gloucester Park has a plan to beat Kiwi champ Lazarus in Saturday's $1.1 million Inter Dominion final in Perth. And it involves going to sleep and then waking up mid-race. That is what Gary Hall believes is his only real option in the hottest harness race of the year on a track he has ruled for the last decade. Hall, who drives predominantly for his trainer father Gary senior, has won three Inter Dominions driving I'm Themightyquinn but his domination of Gloucester Park's major races extends to near-embarrassing levels. He has driven the winner of the state's premier race, the WA Cup, seven times and thinks nothing of bagging five winners at a metropolitan Friday night Gloucester Park meeting. And beating the Kiwis is nothing new to Hall, he has won more Grand Circuit pacing races than any other driver, his 22 victories eclipsing Lazarus's trainer-driver Mark Purdon's 20 wins. But for all his skills, Hall thinks they won't be required for much of the great race after his charge Chicago Bull drew one on the second line behind likely leader Tiger Tara. "It looks like I will be in the trail and I can just sit there and go to sleep for a couple of laps," says Hall. "There really won't be many decisions to be made until they start to up the ante over the last 1200m and then I have to work out when I try and get off the marker pegs. "If Tiger Tara stays in front and horses like Lazarus, Lennytheshark and Soho Tribeca all do some work around each other in those first two laps, then we have a great chance." But after thousands of spins around the Gloucester Park circuit, Hall admits to having one concern. "I'm pretty sure Tiger Tara will stay in front but the last thing I want is a tame early section of the race and then horses like Tiger, Lazarus and Tribeca being three abreast starting the last lap with no gap for me because they are so tough they may not stop." Lazarus is the $2.10 favourite with New Zealand TAB who have Chicago Bull as the $3.80 second pick. By Michael Guerin  

In Christchurch.--- It has all the ingredients of a racing fairytale --- a young girl and the horse she loves triumphing against all odds on the biggest stage. And the joy 19-year-old Sheree Tomlinson felt as she won her family’s version of the New Zealand Cup, the $300,000 Dominion at Addington, yesterday was impossible to not to love. Tomlinson never went around a horse on 90-1 chance Amaretto Son, trained by her grandfather Ken Ford, sneaking up the passing lane to become the first female to win our greatest trot race. And all this on a horse who first brought Tomlinson to the attention of the punting public but a horse who needed an operation this time last year to keep racing. But there is only one problem with this girl loves life-changing horse storyline. “He is actually a bugger,” laughs Tomlinson. “He tries to kick me out of the cart every time I drive him. Not just race day, every time. “That is just him. So we have had our moments along the way. He is not easy.” So while he may not be the textbook equine hero, Amaretto Son gave the Tomlinson and Ford family their proudest moment in racing. They are trotting people through and through, breeding horse of that that gait as opposed to pacers and therefore they don’t dream of New Zealand Cups, they dream of the Dominion. “That is why I am so emotional, I can’t believe we, not me but the whole family, have won the race we want the most,” says Sheree. “Especially with this fella because he had those bone chip issues last season and he hasn’t been an easy horse for us.”Tomlinson may be a teenager with an infectious smile but she is no newcomer to the sulky, having been brought up through harness racing’s hugely successful Kidz Kartz programme. “That was a great way to get into racing and get out there on the track before I was allowed to drive properly but I can’t believe something like this has come so early in my career. “I am absolutely buzzing. It is all a bit of a blur.” Amaretto Son will now travel north for the plethora of major trots over the summer at a time when the open class ranks, shorn of Monbet, have a very open feel to them. That wasn’t supposed to be how yesterday’s Dominion turned out as Great Things Happen was a $1.50 favourite and when he jogged to the front in the early stages he should have been too good. But he was beaten at the 300m, leaving trainer-driver Gavin Smith wondering whether his stable star had suffered from a tying up problem as he took an age to recover after the race. While Amaretto Son was a crushing blow for punters in yesterday’s great trot, Ultimate Machete was simply crushing in the A$260,000 Woodlands Pacing Free-For-All. The four-year-old showed the benefit of coming in fresh after missing Cup day to sit parked outside Tiger Tara and Jack’s Legend, smashing the national all comers 1950m mobile record in the process. He will head off to Perth this week to join stablemate Lazarus at the Perth Inter Dominion series but Ultimate Machete will be aimed at the four-year-old support races worth a total of A$375,000 over the next three Fridays. By Michael Guerin

The Heaven Rocks spell has been broken. Because while the extraordinarily talented pacer is already back on the New Zealand Cup trail punters could be forgiven for thinking the big fella has already lost our greatest race. Heaven Rocks stunned his connections and burnt punters when he raced erratically and dropped out to finish last in his comeback race at Addington on Friday night. So wayward was he in the home straight and proppy when returning to the stables there were initial fears he has broken down. By Saturday morning they were allayed and it turns out a greasy heel may have been the cause of the problems that dented his aura while bullet-proof stablemate Lazarus ground his way to an unexpected victory. Driver Natalie Rasmussen, who has little tolerance for mental or physical weakness in horses, was blunt in her assessment. "Plenty of other horses wouldn't have let it bother them but he is a bit of a baby like that," says Rasmussen. "It doesn't take a lot to put him off his game but the good news is he is fine now and straight back into work. "We galloped him in work today and he will hopple again tomorrow [Tuesday]." So effectively Heaven Rocks, who had been flying at the trials before the race and was expected to be too fit and sharp for Lazarus, hasn't missed much from a New Zealand Cup point of view. He is still targeting the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on October 23 and could sneak in a race at Addington on November 3, three races pre-Cup plenty for such an athletic horse who was already advanced after two trials and some dazzling work at home. And the ever-cautious TAB bookies have hardly given up on Heaven Rocks, as he is still a warm second favourite at $3.60 for the November 14 Cup, with Lazarus in to $1.75 from as long as $2.50 on Friday. But while Heaven Rocks can still win the Cup and there could still be other twists and turns in the five weeks before the Addington thriller, does anybody really want to back Heaven Rocks any more? There is no doubting his talent and his motor might be as big as Lazarus but he has always been a hard horse to trust, particularly when things get tough. And things don't get any tougher in harness racing than a New Zealand Cup. Any mental deficiencies can be exposed by the biggest, and noisiest, crowd in New Zealand racing and clearly Heaven Rocks doesn't need much to upset him. But perhaps more importantly a New Zealand Cup paced at sub 3:55 places a premium on courage and the ability to run through the pain barrier. Lazarus proved he can master those physical threats when he won the Cup by 10 lengths last season while Dream About Me also has nothing to prove on that front after a race record in the Auckland Cup. As good as Heaven Rocks is Friday reminded us there is no room for sulking in the sulky. So until we see glaring evidence to the contrary, it is hard to make any case he can beat Lazarus or even Dream About in our most brutal pacing race. That is not to say he can't win the Cup, but all of a sudden he feels more like a 8-1 chance. ROAD TO THE NZ CUP Friday: Holmes D G at Alexandra Park. Sunday: Methven Cup. Oct 23: Flying Stakes, Ashburton. Oct 30: Kaikoura Cup. Nov 3: Potentially open class races at both Addington and Alexandra Park. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The Inter Dominion is set to make a shock return to New Zealand with Alexandra Park almost certain to host the series. Harness racing's glamour event hasn't been held in New Zealand since 2011 and was thought to be lost to this country for ever after neither Addington or Alexandra Park expressed interest in holding it again when the series went up for three-year tender in 2012. Since then it has been held at Menangle for three years and completes its third year in Perth this December but the Herald understands it will return to Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland on rotation from next year. While harness racing bosses won't confirm the move, the reality is the series will either start that three-year rotation - probably Melbourne next year, then Auckland and ending in Sydney - or disappear. Tenders for the rights to hold the series closed this week and West Australia did not put in a bid. South Australia and Tasmania can't afford to hold the series and Queensland didn't join in on the joint Victoria-NSW-New Zealand bid as the state goes through some transitions. So with the tender being the only option for the Inter Dominion council, they either approve that bid or the historic series, often seen at the pinnacle of harness racing's trans-tasman rivalry, will cease to exist. The New Zealand third of the bid is being led by Harness Racing New Zealand and they have asked the Auckland Trotting Club whether they will host it at Alexandra Park, almost certainly in 2019. ATC president Bruce Carter has confirmed his club are keen as long as the funding numbers add up. Addington bosses were understood not to be keen to host the series yet as it will remain in the late November-December time slot, which would be too close to their New Zealand Cup meeting, starting two weeks after the NZ Free-For-All. The three-way joint venture has been led by Harness Racing New South Wales and would likely see two rounds of heats and a Grand Final, which in Auckland's case would probably all be on Friday nights. While exact stake levels are still a way off being finalised, it is believed the Final stake at Auckland at least could be $500,000. The return of the series to Auckland would be timely. Alexandra Park is in a vastly superior financial position to what it was when they stepped into host the series under Addington's banner just weeks after the Christchurch earthquakes in February 2011. HRNZ boss Edward Rennell says Addington haven't ruled out hosting the series again should the new three-organisation bid become the long-term future of the series. Queensland could also be keen to be involved in a future rotation. But the series coming to Auckland would set up a dream two months of harness racing in New Zealand, with Australasia's best pacers able to come for the NZ Cup carnival, Inter Dominion and stay for the Auckland Cup on December 31. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Ray Green has broken his Australian major race drought with the most unlikely of horses. The South Auckland trainer claimed the richest win of his career when King Of Swing led throughout in the hands of David Butcher in the A$285,000 ($310,000) Breeders Crown two-year-old pacing final. The rangy pacer capped a remarkable rise from obscurity, winning his group one just three months after he debuted and without having contested any of the feature juvenile races at home. That didn't deter Green, the trainer for Lincoln Farms, from giving him his shot at Australia's best and his improvement curve has peaked at the right time, with Butcher's perfect drive a massive help. Green is no stranger to campaigning horses in Australia, having won decent races with Badlands Bute and training Sir Lincoln to a luckless second in the Victoria Derby. "But on the whole we haven't had a lot of luck over here so to finally get a really big one is very satisfying," said the jovial 71-year-old. "He has always looked a good horse but we waited until he told us he was good enough to bring over here." The win eclipses the Auckland Cup that Sir Lincoln won as the richest race taken out by a Lincoln Farms pacer and King Of Swing has Derby horse written all over him. King Of Swing His win was the highlight of a mixed day for the Kiwi challengers, with Canterbury filly Renezmae the other to taste group one glory. She led throughout in the two-year-old fillies trot for 23-year-old trainer Jack Harrington, who must surely be one of the youngest New Zealand horsemen to prepare a group one winner. Harrington has quickly built up a 25 horses stable after getting into racing with no family background. "I got into it because my Dad liked a bet so to be here, winning a Breeders Crown, is pretty amazing," says Harrington. "I was welling up when I was being interviewed after the race, I was worried I was gonna start crying," he laughed. Renezmae Punters who backed the All Stars' three runners probably felt like crying too as they had a rare off day. While Partyon was a brave third in her final, More The Better and Sicario both finished unplaced. More The Better was the shock of the day, galloping when in front after 600m as a red hot favourite. And the Kiwi juvenile pacing fillies were a mixed bag, with Bettor Joy below her best when unplaced after leading, leaving fellow Canterbury filly Angel Of Harlem to chase home stunning winner Nostra Villa. By Michael Guerin  

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