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Murray Tapper knows that harness racing can be a cruel game at times but even he was beginning to wonder what Levels Legacy had done to deserve all the bad luck he has had. Bred by a quartet including Murray, Levels Legacy broke in really nice but then suffered a fractured pelvis as a yearling. " I thought I was going to have to put him down as he was dragging a leg for ages but the vet said it would heal and it did," Murray told Harnesslink yesterday.  Qualifying as an early 3 year old, Levels Legacy ran a couple of seconds from his first four starts but was immature and was put aside to develop. Brought back as a 4 year old, Levels Legacy had a couple of placings and was improving with every run when disaster struck at last years Cup week Ashburton meeting. "He broke down in both fetlocks, tearing the ligaments badly." I managed to get him home but he couldn't walk at all for quite a while. I again considered having him put down but he's such a game horse that I thought he deserved his chance to come through this," Murray said yesterday. Slowly but surely with plenty of TLC, Levels Legacy improved to the point where Murray got the all clear to put him back into work.  And so nine months after the Ashburton disaster Levels Legacy returned to do battle on the racetrack in August this year. As you would expect he needed a run or two after such a long absence but a workout a couple of weeks at Ashburton brought a smile to Murray's face. "He went huge and I went to Timaru last week with real confidence." "He got a lovely run but when Matthew (Williamson) pulled him out he just battled into third." "Maybe it was the slushy track but I was pretty disappointed," Murray said.  So today at Geraldine on the grass Murray was hopeful rather than confident. Away well from barrier three for regular driver Matthew Williamson in the 1850 mobile event, Levels Legacy slotted into the trail behind the pacemaking Hey Knowchange and was shuffled three back on the inner when Sandvik Star went to the lead at the 1250 mark. The order was still the same as they turned for home and Sandvik Star grabbed a break as they straightened up. Working into the clear, Levels Legacy flew the last bit to grab Sandvik Star in the shadows of the post for that elusive first win. Murray was full of praise for the son of Washington VC after the race. "He has had so many problems and still has niggles but he has got  huge ticker which is why he is still with us." "I don't punt that much but had a fair hit on him last week when he disappointed me so I didn't have a cent on him today." "As long as everything holds together that won't be his last win either but just don't ask me when his next will be," Murray joked. For Levels Legacy to overcome all the issues he has had to deal with and still want to race shows how game the gelding is. Harnesslink Media   

Harness racing recently saw the brilliant Monarchy gelding Sovereignty retired due to soundness problems and he has been joined in the retirement paddock today by another Monarchy gelding in Stylish Monarch who has also succumbed to soundness problems. Trained for all but one start in his career  by his Timaru trainer Murray Tapper, Stylish Monarch at his peak was as good as any trotter going around in New Zealand in the last ten years.  Between 2009 and 2011, Stylish Monarch was the horse they all had to beat in the big trotting races in New Zealand. Partnered with champion reinsman Ricky May through most of his career, Stylish Monarch claimed two New Zealand Trotting Championships (Group One) over the brilliant I Can Doosit and a stunning win in the Group Two Flying Mile at Cambridge over Sovereignty in 1:57.5. The biggest win for Stylish Monarch was undoubtedly his victory in the Group One $200,000 Dominion Handicap where he again defeated I Can Doosit in a stunning 4:02.9 for the 3200 meters from a stand. Plagued by soundness issues, Stylish Monarch was retired in August of 2013. However around May this year Murray Tapper took Stylish Monarch back to the stables because he was looking so well in the paddock. The plan was to use him as a training partner for the younger horses in the stable but Stylish Monarch was so impressive and sound that Tapper decided to try to get him back to the races. The first few trials were encouraging but after a less than stellar performance at his fourth trial, Stylish Monarch came up sore a few days later. So Stylish Monarch goes to the retirement paddock having faced the starter just 60 times for 17 wins and 21 placings for $500,620 in stakes. Harness racing today is dominated by the big stables in the main but Stylish Monarch and Murray Tapper proved once again that the little guy can still succeed at the top level. Harnesslink Media    

2010 Dominion Handicap winner Stylish Monarch made a surprise appearance at the Timaru trials on Saturday. The 17-race winner, who was thought to be retired after going amiss again back in August of last year, has been back in work with original trainer Murray Tapper for several months. “He made his own mind up,” said Tapper. “He had been out for six odd months when he started galloping around the paddock like a mad man so I decided to bring him into work to help educate my young trotters,” he explained. But that didn’t exactly go to plan as the son of Monarchy, who has earned over half of a million dollars and currently holds the New Zealand trotting record for 3200 metres, quickly found his racing spirit. “As he got fitter he became very competitive again and I could never hold him,” said Tapper. “He just used to trot away from the young ones which wasn’t doing anyone any favours,” he laughed. Stylish Monarch finished third of three in his trial, but was only beaten just over four lenghts by 9-win pacer Motu Speedy Star who started of equal terms. “I was very pleased with his trial and, more importantly, how his legs look afterwards,” said Tapper. “He is still a day-to-day proposition but at this stage his legs look great and don’t look like going any time soon,” Tapper said as he touched wood. Tapper said if the Group One winning 10-year-old showed any signs of soreness it would be curtains on his career and this time it would be for good. “He has been too good of a horse to me for me to put him from pain,” he stressed. Tapper said Stylish Monarch would trial at least two more times before making a possible comeback in August. “I’m not making any rash plans at this stage,” said Tapper.”I think there is a C3 & faster trot for him sometime in mid-August but I won’t be rushing him to get there.” “He is ten-years-old now so I am just hopeful that he will still have the same speed and stamina because even if his 10-15% down on his best he is going to struggle,” admitted Tapper. “But even if he could be competitive again at the highest level it would be a dream come true,” he enthused. By Mitchell Robertson

Sam Ottley just keeps breaking records and now the Canterbury driver has her sights set on a couple of other milestones before this season comes to a close. The brilliant young horsewoman’s tally of 42 wins for the season makes her the most successful female junior driver in terms of races won – beating off the old mark held by Jo Herbert of 39 which she set in 1998. And now the 23-year-old is determined to win what she terms the “coveted” junior driving premiership. “That is the main goal now, I’ll drive anywhere to win that,” Ottley said. “I’m also proud of the most-female-wins-in-a-season record as well. “I didn’t realise I had achieved it, this all means so much to me. I love driving and I want to be successful.’’ The female junior driver record for wins in a season came just two months after Ottley created more junior driving history at Forbury Park. The Geraldine-born and educated horse woman became the first ever female junior driver to notch up 100 wins when she reined the Michael House trained appropriately named Gogirl Bromac in race one – the Dunedin City Ford maiden trot on April 17. Ottley is one win clear of the her closest junior driver rival in Sailesh Abernethy, who applied a little more pressure with a winning double at Cambridge last night. She is also three wins clear of Natalie Rasmussen – the country’s second best reinswoman in terms of wins. “It would be great to beat them both, especially Sailesh because I’m getting near the end of my junior driving days and I would love to go out a champion. “The Junior Driving Premiership would be the ultimate way to end the season.’’ Kirsten Barclay was the last female to win the junior driving premiership. That was in in the 2004-2005 season when she won 32 races from 315 drives. Ottley has now driven 112 winners from 1,317 drives since first taking out her licence in 2008-2009. She’s also placed 212 times for $815,799. “It’s been a memorable year. It’[s hard to believe I’ve created a couple of firsts this year. I’m so happy because they can never the achievements away from me.’’ She said other career highlights included winning her first race-day drive behind her mother Denise’s horse Nigel Paul; winning the Geraldine Cup on Just Rose for Colin and Julie (De Filippi) and representing New Zealand at the Australasian Junior Driving Champs (third by a point). Ottley paid a tribute to her mother, Timaru trainer Murray Tapper, the De Filippi’s, and all the owners and trainers who put her on their horses. In an effort to enhance her chances of winning the junior drivers premiership, Ottley is currently on loan to the Woodend Beach stable of Robert and John Dunn with De Filippi low on racing numbers currently. She heads to Forbury Park tonight in search of adding to her season tally with a promising book of five drives. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

It may have been a wet and miserable day but Greg & Nina Hope left Mt Harding Racecourse with plenty to smile about. The Woodend couple were successful early in the card with smart mare Helena Jet before claiming dual Green Mile victories with Glencoe VC and stable newcomer Phil’s Gift. The former, who was driven by Gerard O’Reilly, was a comprehensive winner of the $20,000 Pacers Green Mile over Castellina Lover and stablemate Jason Rulz, despite racing parked for the majority of the journey. “He is a very good horse who just never gets tired,” said Greg Hope. “He is a great stayer, but he also has his fair share of speed, so I think he has a very big future,” he added. The lightly raced six-year-old son of Washington VC will now target the Ashburton Cup on Boxing Day before tackling the Northern Southland and Invercargill Cup. “The two mile standing starts should really suit him, so all of those races will be right up his alley,” he enthused. Hope was also happy enough with Jason Rulz performance in finishing third. “Being left three wide in the Cup really hurt him and he is just taking a while to come back to it. He looks like he is back on the up now though. There isn’t a lot between him and Glencoe VC.” Phil’s Gift then topped off a great day for the Hopes by winning the trotters version of the Green Mile. “We have only had him a week but he is a lovely horse with really high speed,” said Hope. “We took him home after the Geraldine races last week and he was in terrific order. He had a couple of runs on the beach during the week and I think that sharpened him up for today,” he added. “Murray Tapper who formerly trained the horse is cutting down so we were lucky enough to get our hands on him. Murray has done a superb job with him. He is probably the most sensible and well mannered Sundon I have ever had anything to do with,” he concluded. By Mitchell Robertson

Levels trainer Murray Tapper who reached the heights of Group One stardom with Stylish Monarch in 2010 and 2011 is now looking to take a backwards step in the sport. “I plan on relinquishing my public trainers’ licence and just doing my own ones and a couple of outsiders,” confirmed Tapper. “Unless you are someone like Mark Purdon or Cran Dalgety there isn’t a lot of money in harness racing and pressure from owners is high. “Training horses for owners comes with a lot of pressure as you are playing with their dreams in some respect, and lately I’m not entirely sure that I’ve been doing them justice,” admitted Tapper. Tapper said that he was now looking to take on a position at mammoth Diary company Fonterra but that nothing had been confirmed as of yet. “It is time to try something new but harness racing will still be my passion and my hobby.” Tapper says that while the career of Stylish Monarch, especially his win in the Dominion, has been the clear highlight of his career to date he has also been very lucky to have some other more than handy trotters around him. “Domination (10 wins) , Phil’s Gift (9 wins) and, to a lesser extent, Not Likely have all done a great job for me and helped keep me a float,” said Tapper. “Not Likely is owned in Australia and is due to head there later in the month while Phil’s Gift was recently transferred to the stable of Greg & Nina Hope at Woodend Beach. “I think he (Phil’s Gift) could do a great job there as the straight line beach training should really help him as he is inclined to jar up at times,” explains Tapper. “He isn’t a million miles from the top ones. He has the speed to match them but just lacks the toughness at this stage, but I think he will get there eventually.” Tapper said that has agreed to break in five horses for Anne Paterson (Owner of Stylish Monarch) and has recently had Laura Lace served by Christian Cullen. “So I still have plenty of horses to keep me out of trouble,” he joked. Laura Lace‘s first foal is Steam Washed (13 wins, 75,000) who Tapper sold to Australia after winning her qualifying trial. “She won the South Australian Oaks over there and her connections have since been back to buy Laura Lace’s next two foals, so I used some of that money to put her in foal to Christian Cullen as she is related to top Australian youngster Allblack Stride (by Christian Cullen).” By Mitchell Robertson    

Don’t expect last Friday’s Addington feature trot winner – Phil’s Gift – to line up in the Group One $200,000 Dominion Trot on Show Day (November 15). Trainer Murray Tapper said he preferred to start the Sundon gelding in the Free-For-All on Cup Day (November 12). “I’ll talk to the owners again but they know how I feel. I’d rather start him in the shorter race on Cup Day than I would the Dominion. “There’s no way he could back up in three days for both. He’s not that type of horse. Racing can take a lot out of him and he can take some time to recover. The 3200m is a bit far for him at this stage,” Tapper said. “I think he would be a better Dominion horse in 13 months,” added the Timaru horseman. Tapper said the 6-year-old bay had to be driven with a sit and that’s exactly what Ricky May did on Friday. “He has won in front before but as he’s gone through the grades it’s got harder, and I’ve now trained him to have one sprint at them. “It’s a tougher class opposition now and I’ve had to adjust my trainer because of that. He’s got a very good sprint when saved for the run. That was evident on Friday,” Tapper said. May had Phil’s Gift second last early and swinging for home were still in that position with favourite Escapee snookered last on the markers. They both flew down the outer with Phil’s Gift hanging on to beat Escapee and Mark Purdon by half a head. Raydon and David Butt were 2-1/2 lengths back in third. They won the $7,500, C3 and faster trot in 3:23.2. Mile rate for the 2600m stand: 2:05.7. Last 800m: 59.8. Last 400m: 28.9. Phil’s Gift started from the 40m back-mark and was the $5.80 third favourite. That was his ninth win in 33 starts and he’s also placed eight times for $76,997. Tapper paid $16,000 for him at the Christchurch yearling sales. He said he was easily the best of the 12 horses he had in work at Levels in South Canterbury, but said Phil’s Gift had some way to go to surpassing the best trotter he’s trained – the recently retired Stylish Monarch, and Group One winning 10-year-old son of Monarchy, who has won 17 races and $500,620. “Phil’s Gift has more speed but Stylish Monarch is a tougher grinder who can churn out solid quarters. “We’ll see exactly where Phil’s Gift is at when he lines up on Cup Day. He would make a good Australian horse and that could be an option down the track but for now it’s all about progressing through to compete with the best,” the 50-year-old said. Phil’s Gift is owned by K.P. Tapper, R.L.P. Scott, P.F. Parker, and M. L. Hynes. He was bred by Colin and Rona McKay. He is the seventh foal of eight out of the one-win Speedy Summit mare, Ilona Del. Phil’s Gift’s full sister (and fourth foal), Jasmyn’s Gift won 17 races, including the Group One New Zealand Trotting Championship and New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. Phil’s Gift’s biggest win to date was the $25,000 Group Three Glenferrie Farm Trotters Championship in March. Friday’s win was his second race back since finishing fifth behind Charlemagne in the Harness Jewels final at Ashburton in June. Exciting trotter Experiment heading to Addington Exciting Southland trotter, Experiment will head to Addington Raceway to compete in two mid-graded races on Cup and Show Day. The 5-year-old Sundon mare confirmed the trip north when notching up her third win in a row and fourth in five starts this season at the Riverton Trotting Club’s meeting on Sunday (November 3). The Tony Barron trained Experiment blitzed her opposition with an effortless front-running display in the in the $8,000 Never Cleaver Fishing discretionary for the C1 and faster trotters. She has also won at the Wairio, Gore, and Forbury Park meetings this season, after racing 12 times in 2012-2013 for just two placings. Errol Forde (72) owns Experiment with his partner Jan Hawthorn (68). The retired Makarewa resident said now that his mare had turned the corner she would definitely now be heading to Christchurch. “I’m still on a high. I’ve had horses since the 1980s but never had one this good. I would never have ever thought I’d have a horse good enough to win three races in a row. “She will now head north and take on some of the best in her grade. One day, maybe two years, I’d like to think she could make a Dominion horse. That is one race I’d really like to win,” Forde said. He said Experiment had been a work in progress and it now appeared that Barron had ironed out most of her issues. “We had a bit of trouble with her early on. She had a few bad habits, but with training, time and age she has developed into a nice trotter. “We are hoping she will go on with it now she has won four races,” Forde said. Brent Barclay got Experiment away quickly from her 10m handicap on Sunday and then when they hit the front at the 2000m, the race was for second. Experiment simply out-trotted her 12 opponents, stopping the clock in 3:34.8 (2700m stand) with final 800m and 400m sprints of 60 and 28.9. Her winning mile rate was 2:08. She was the $3.60 favourite. Forde and Hawthorn have two-and-a-half years left on their four-year lease. Then then have right of purchase from breeder Michael House. “She’s still got plenty of time and there’s plenty of improvement left in her yet,” said Forde who does a bit of work with his pride and joy. Forde, who worked in the engineering trade, retired to Makarewa from Nightcaps and assisted Ron Barron there before he retired. “Ron asked me if I wanted to buy Experiment and it all went from there. That’s how Tony ended up with her,” Forde said. He said Experiment’s racing future would not be decided until after her race on Show Day. “That’s when we will sit down and plan her racing. Auckland could be an option over Christmas because Tony has campaigned horses up there before. “I’ve never had a horse good enough to race up there. It is a possibility, but like I said it all depends how she fronts up in Christchurch,” Forde said. Experiment has now won just under $20,000 from her 18 starts, which includes four wins and three placings. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Samantha Ottley will have her first drive at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night (September 12) thanks to the initiative of a trainer she has never met before. Pukekohe horsewoman Paulette Screen will bring the 23-year-old Canterbury reinswoman north to drive one pacer and one trotter on the eight-race card. “Paulette rang me out of the blue, and she was even trying to get more drives for me as well, but no-one came forward. Paulette said she liked my driving. That was really nice to hear because I really enjoy what I do. “It will be my first drive around Cambridge Raceway and I’m grateful to Paulette for making that happen,” said Ottley who lives 10 minutes from Greenpark, which is near Motukarara. Ottley will drive Screen’s 4-year-old Falcon Seelster 5-year-old, Classic Ambition in the fourth event – the $5,500 Charlie Blackwell Memorial mobile for maiden pacers. Then three races later Ottley will take on her fellow junior drivers in the Raelyn Butler $6,000 Memorial handicap trot. She will drive Screen’s 5-year-old Majestic Son mare, Regal Petite. She has won five of her 14 starts and is nicely handicapped at 10m. Both horses are winning chances and Ottley said she excited about driving at Cambridge. “It’s a track I’ve seen on TV and always wanted to drive at. I’m a South Island girl. It’s going to be great to head north and drive,” she said. Ottley was born in Geraldine and educated at Geraldine High School. Her first job was with South Canterbury trainer Murray Tapper. She had four years with him before joining Colin and Julie De Filippi’s atLincoln barn just over two years ago. Ottley has had 70 wins ($498,225) in just over five seasons but is yet to open her account in 2013-2014. She has so far had 11 drives for five placings. Last year was her most successful to date, winning 34 races and $249, 788. Ottley said coming north would be a memorable moment in her career. She said she hoped it was as successful as her first drive. “That was behind Mum’s (Denise) pacer Nigel Paul who won at the Kurow meeting at Oamaru. It was also my 18th birthday,” Ottley said. She also rated her win behind the de Filippi trained Just Rose in last year’s Geraldine Cup as special. “I really enjoyed winning my home-town race for Colin and Julie. They have been wonderful employers and have taught me so much. “I am really enjoying working for them,” Ottley said. Ottley said she was looking forward to giving her fellow Junior drivers some good opposition this season. “I’d like to perform well against the Juniors. There are quite a few new names appearing this year. Hopefully my experience will help me against them,” she said. The trip north will be a welcome escape for Ottley. She has been without power since the severe Spring storm struck parts of the South Island on Tuesday. “It’s definitely a stepping stone for my career and one I’m looking forward to,” Ottley said. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Harness racing trainer Murray Tapper is living proof that sometimes it is the quiet ones you need to be worried about. Because while the New Zealand trainer of Stylish Monarch is virtually unheard of, or from, in Australia, that could all change after Saturday night's $250,000 Seelite Windows and Doors Inter Dominion Trotting Final at Melton.

Pure Power was vetted following the gelding's disappointing performance in last Sunday's (October 9) Methven Cup which revealed no obvious abnormalities. Co-trainer Dave McGowan of Pukekohe, advised harness racing stewards the son of Grinfromeartoear had scoured during the running and would have blood tests taken.

Harnesslink readers from Wellington, Timaru and Marton have won our latest fixed odds betting competition. Thanks to the generosity of New Zealand's harness racing bookmaker Steve Richardson the three winners have now won $500 worth of fixed odds bets between them.

Outstanding harness racing driver Ricky May has topped the list of stake earnings by a New Zealand reinsman for the second year running. May bankrolled $1,867,454 for the connections of the horses he drove, and although he steered home comparatively less winners than the high flying Dexter Dunn (220 wins), it was the quality of many of May's 78 wins together with his partnership with Dancingonmoonlight stable that has kept May at the top of the stake earning leader-board.

Stylish Monarch will carry the ghosts of one of New Zealand's greatest harness racing regions with him tomorrow night (Friday May 6). The brave trotter could start favourite in the $200,000 Canam Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park, victory in which would guarantee him the national Trotter-of-the-Year title.

It was deja-vu at Addington Raceway tonight (Saturday) for Levels harness racing trainer Murray Tapper when Stylish Monarch won the New Zealand Trotting Championship for the second year running.

The chances were slim but two South Island based relatives are the respective winners of the New Zealand TAB and Harnesslink's Inter Dominion fixed odds betting competition. Both Kim Tapper and Grant Milne not only have harness racing running through their veins - and they are also second cousins.

It was a confident return to the race-track by top squaregaiter Stylish Monarch at yesterday's (Sunday March 6) Cheviot Harness Racing Club meeting. The Murray Tapper trained seven year old looks set to be one of the leading chances in the upcoming Interdominion Series which begins in Auckland on March 25, following a strong performance to beat Springbank Richard in the Robbies Bar And Bistro Mobile Trot.

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