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Harness racing in New Zealand lost one of its racetrack stars this week when the outstanding trotting racemare Superbowlcheerleader was retired due to injury. Since joining the All Stars team last year, she had gone ahead in leaps and bounds and looked to be in for a huge season. Originally with the Wallis/Hackett barn for whom she won six races, Superbowlcheerleader was purchased last year by Brian West and Sue Grainger first and foremost as a future broodmare. The daughter of Sundon had won six races and close to $40,000 and after being purchased,she was transferred to the All Stars barn at Rolleston for a few more starts before becoming a broodmare. However it soon became apparent that Superbowlcheerleader was far from finished an the racetrack. Always known to be a touch headstrong like a lot of the Sundon's, Superbowlcheerleader showed the All Star team enough to suggest that they should press on with a race career. It took half a dozen starts for the All Stars team to get her to the winners circle but she kept on improving and a 3rd in the $80,000 Group 1 New Zealand Trotting Championship to Master Lavros in a 1:59.4 mile rate for the 2600 metres had everyone sitting up and taking notice. At her next start Superbowlcheerleader won the $95,845 Group 1 Anzac Cup over Zedalite after sitting parked for the majority of the journey in what was undoubtedly her best win. She started this season with a neck second to Kinscaslough in New Zealand record time and looked to be peaking nicely for all the big trotting races around Cup week. Since being purchased and transferred to the All Stars barn, Superbowlcheerleader had faced the starter 19 times for 4 wins and 5 placings for stakes of $99,337. She goes to stud with an overall record of 47 starts for 10 wins, 5 seconds and 8 thirds for stakes totaling $139,782 When spoken to this morning Brian West while disappointed with how it ended, has loved the ride with the mare. " We purchased her really as a broodmare and to have her turn around and race like that has been a huge thrill"  he said. " Mark and Natalie have done such a great job with her and I feel for them a bit as they thought she was shaping up to have her best season yet. "We haven't decided on a stallion for her yet but there is no shortage of world class sires available,"  he said. Superbowlcheerleader is the 3rd foal from the Britewell mare Brite Paula. The first two are both winners in Going Commando - 6 wins ($37,477) and Hot Holiday -17 wins ($159,404) while Brite Paula herself is a full sister to the former age group star Super Command -11 wins ($185,803) The third dam is the brilliant trotting mare Paula Scott who raced in North America in the 1970s, taking a record then of 2:00 and earning $123,198. and she was a half sister to the great trotting mare Paulette who won the 1971 Group One Rowe Cup. It has been a great trotting family for over 40 years and Superbowlcheerleader will get her chance at stud to further enhance its standing. Harnesslink Media

The harness racing action moved to the trials at Rangiora yesterday after the huge day at Ashburton on Monday and saw a large batch of 2 year olds strut their stuff for the first time. The first of the 2 year old heats was for the fillies and all six runners were from the all conquering All Stars team. Arden's Choice by Panspacificflight did enough to grab the pacemaking Sophisticated Lady (Mach Three) in the last few metres but the whole six finished within a couple of lengths of each other in their first serious hitout. The overall time of 2:42.7 in the very windy conditions was what you would expect from a first up run and it should be upwards and onwards from here. The second of the 2 year old heats for colts and geldings saw a 3 year old added to the 5 runners in the form of Bettor Be Smooth and as you would expect he was too strong for the juveniles. Two All Stars runners in Chase The Dream (Bettor's Delight)  and Waikiki Beach (Somebeachsomewhere) closed in the straight but were still 1 1/4 and 2 1/2 lengths in arrears at the finish. However as the last 800 metres was cut out in a blistering 56.6 and 400 metres in 28.6, in less than ideal conditions, then both 2 year olds look to be very promising. In the third 2 year old heat which was also for colts and geldings, another of the All Stars team in Major Ben was very impressive. Slow to begin from the outside alley, Major Ben (Art Major) looped the field after 300 metres and was too strong afterwards winning by two lengths in the fastest time of the three heats of 2:37.2. with closing sectionals of 58.6 and 28.5 Stablemate Lazarus (Bettor's Delight) made ground late to grab second from Audi Hare (Mach Three) from the Michael House barn. Major Ben was easily the biggest of the 2 year olds on display yesterday but seems to have speed to match his size. There was plenty of talented horseflesh in some of the other heats yesterday and this is how we saw them. Isaiah looked very forward as he nabbed a game Venus Serena in his heat which was cut out in a 1:59.8 mile rate with smart sectionals in the conditions of 56.8 and 28.1 Both look ready to rumble come Cup week Itz Bettor To Win made ground well behind the first two for third and can't be far away from making his 3 year old debut. Ancient Moonlight and Cut Loose were very impressive in a C0 heat, clearing out a long way from home with only half a head separating them at the finish. The overall time of 2:30.7 was excellent in the conditions and both horses look to be early winners on that run. Ranfurly Rulz looked forward to resume when winning his heat in a 1:59.8 mile rate when the wind was at its worst and after he had done all the work in front. Princess Galleon trialed again like a trotter who is going to win one at short notice when she cleared out by five lengths in her heat. Webb Ellis and Highview Freddy were only separated by a half head in their heat and both look ready to win a maiden at short notice. Overall apart from the wind, it was a day that threw up several smart horses for racing around New Zealand Cup week Harnesslink Media

The Queens birthday harness racing meeting at Ashburton today had plenty of topliners involved but it was a first starter who stole the show early on. The Mach Three filly Classical Art was only having her third run away from her home at the All Stars base at Rolleston when she accounted for a game Brilliant Strike today. Classical Art only qualified two weeks ago at Addington when she won a 2000 mobile heat in a very quick 1:59 mr She followed that up at last Tuesday's Ashburton trials with a smart win over 2400 metres from a stand, sprinting over her last 400 metres in 27.2. In todays race she dropped off the gate early and slotted into the running line. Brilliant Strike went to the lead with a lap to run and driver Mark Purdon sent Classical Art  off in pursuit with 1100 metres to run. Brilliant Strike applied the pressure across the top and straightened for home three lengths to the good of Classical Art. Half way up the straight Brilliant Strike was holding but in the last 200 metres Classical Art ground her way past him for a great debut win. Classical Art paced the 2400 metres from a mobile in a smart 2:57.2, a mile rate of 1:58.8 with closing sectionals of 57.5 and 28. Mark Purdon was pleased with the first up effort. "That was a nice win first up but she did get the right trip," he said Mark was just as happy with how Classical Art behaved herself at her debut run. "She was a real handful earlier but has settled down this time in I am not sure just yet where we will go next," Mark said." Classical Art is bred to be good as the 3 year old daughter of Mach Three is the 3rd foal from the Artsplace mare in Art Lover 1:57.6 who is a daughter of the former brilliant racemare Under Cover Lover 1:51.8 ($864,923). She was purchased out of the 2013 Australasian Classic yearling sale for $31,000 by Mark Purdon on behalf of the Whitelocks of Palmeston North, who have had a long and successful association with the All Stars stable. Harnesslink Media  

 Just when the New Zealand Trotting Cup looked set to be a two-horse race, Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen raised their collective hand and said ‘don’t forget about us’. All the pre-Cup talk up until yesterday’s Ashburton Flying Stakes had been about the Prince – Christen Me and the King – Terror To Love, but the Queen of harness racing, Adore Me is now firmly back involved in all conversations. The brilliant pacing mare dished out a stern warning to her Cup rivals with a dominant victory in todays Flying Stakes – leaving some star pacing quality in her wake. And while the win was grand, as every win is, the biggest success for Purdon and Rasmussen came in the first 200 metres when Adore Me flew the barrier strands to settle near the early speed. Traditionally slow, or badly away, it was a turn in form at the right time and Purdon, who handled the driving duties yesterday, was suitably impressed. “She really pinged away when the tapes went,’’ he said. “I knew she could do it, she’s begun very quickly at the trials and workouts before. “It certainly gave us a big advantage too.’’ Purdon looked for the lead after a few hundred metres and after finding it yielded to take a trail behind stable mate Hands Christian. From there she was always going to be hard to beat and when Purdon rolled off the leaders back at the top of the straight it was race over as she dashed away to claim the victory. Hands Christian fought bravely to finish in second placing completing a quinella on a good at the office for the Purdon Rasmussen stable who also registered wins with Classical Art, Rare Opportunity and Willow. Both Christen Me and Terror To Love were left to lament things back in the field and neither got into the race with only the former running home strongly to finish in third position with Terror To Love a length behind him at the finish. In terms of a New Zealand Trotting Cup viewpoint, other than Adore Me’s manners and Hands Christian’s return to the top level there was very little else gained from the race. Local hope, Jimmy Johnstone ran a cracker of a race to finish in fourth position. The feature trotting race for the day went to the Colin and Julie DeFilippi trained Stent. The Group One winning squaregaiter bound to the lead from behind the mobile gate and left tongues wagging at the top of the straight when he dashed away to record a comprehensive victory just two weeks out from his main aim, the Dominion Handicap.  Courtesy of Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand    

Ashburton Flying Stakes day is one of the biggest days on the New Zealand harness racing calendar and the All Stars stable has a big team in and most have winning hopes. Here's how the stable rates their runners. Race 2 Backup (1) Natalie Natalie "I favour him over Tokahoka with that draw. He is a very consistent little horse and he should get a nice run from there. Leading hope" Tokahoka (C1 2400m mobile) (6) Tim   Race 3 Rare Opportunity (C3-5 2400m) (20m) Mark Mark "We have been trying to train more speed into him and I think we have made some progress. He was better at Addington and this is a field which suits him. Hard to beat I would say if he does it right.   Race 4 Classical Art (C0 mobile 2400m) (3) Mark Natalie "We have been pleased with her trials and her work lately. She has matured quite a lot. Even first up she should be hard to beat in that field though it is not a walk  up and win job"   Race 5 Prince Fearless (C1-2 2400m) (unruly) Mark Mark "Actually this is his first stand but I put him on the unruly. Sometimes a young horse like this having his first standing start gets a bit overawed among the more experienced horses. It means he will give them a little start but he should have more confidence. He is not far away though he will obviously improve with it. He has come up really well but those older horses who have a lot of ringcraft mightn't make it easy for him"   Race 6 Hug The Wind (3) Mark  Vice Consul (C1-2 2400m stand) (6) Mark "Both good chances. Art Union will obviously be hard. Vice Consul is a bit underrated. He's a good horse and he is probably a bit of each way value"   Race 7 Adore Me (7) Mark Mark "I am very happy with her but she will improve again. Being in the first four would be a pass mark for me and a good one but we'll take anything better"  Hands Christian (6) Natalie Natalie-"I was very very happy with his work again on Saturday. He's really coming on in great style. He surprised a few last time and he might surprise them again here"   Race 9 Willow (C3-5 fillies and mares one mile) (6) Natalie Natalie "I think that she can win first up though she will improve with it. She has put the fractions up in fast races before and that ability is always a big factor. She has filled out a bit since last season and I think she will be even better next season but with luck in this field on her trials she will be very hard to beat"   Race 10 Fly Like An Eagle (1 20m) Tim Tim "He was great in an easier field and I think he will improve again. The problem for him is the 20m handicap even if he begins which I am not worried about. But if they run 2.59 or something off the front it makes it tough"  Arden Rooney (1 10m) Natalie Natalie "He's ready to go. His work has been great and he usually does things right. A top chance with Tiger Tara the one to beat I guess"  Messini  (4) Mark Natalie "He's a good horse and his trials have been fine. A good horse off the front running a time can make the handicapped horses work hard on this track and you have to respect his ability"   Race 11 Bio Marinus (C3-4 stand) 2 10m Mark Natalie " He is in the zone at the moment and will be hard to beat again. Work is good too"   Courtesy Of All Stars Racing - Check site here  

A treble of wins for the All Stars team was highlighted by memorable results for Mickey Ward and the Patterson family and for Neil Pilcher who posted a win on his 77th birthday - as well as Matt Anderson posting his first win at Addington watched by his sponsor and family friend, Ray Coupland.  Mickey Ward has spent a good part of his life following or racing horses. His biggest moment was winning the Messenger with the Jack Smolenski -trained  OK Royal with Jack and Mickey racing him in partnership. Royal Mach raced out of All Stars for the Wards after Jack retired  but  The Royal Garden has tested his patience after a paddock accident sidelined him for a long time. Mickey wasn't travelling that well either with a serious bout of ill health which has put him in a wheelchair.  In typical humorous style Mickey loved the win but was a bit septic on the $1.50 win dividend ! "Pilch" has sold the smart Holy Grail this week but Alta Orlando who he races with Jim and Ann Gibbs won the 5th heat of the Sires Stakes anyway. Neil's record with the stock of Courage Under Fire  is outstanding and Alta Orlando, a big two year old winner last season, has proven a bargain. Heres a review of how the All Stars runners went: Stopandstare (2nd) Nathan) "Had to do a bit of work caught three wide and she fought on well (last quarter 27.9)  " - Nathan Alta Ronaldo (2nd) Natalie "He just missed away a little, not bad, but in those short races from a stand it never helps. He went good after that, fought on well. He just doesn't have that real sharp speed at this stage" - Natalie. Have Faith in Me (galloped in run up) Tim "The gate was going a bit slow for him and he started looking around and stargazing then bumped one outside him and that was that"  - Tim. (Forbury revisited !) Change Stride (4th) Mark "I wouldn't say he was disappointing. He got a good enough run but he wanted to hang and that made it hard for him. He is green yet. He will probably line up here again next Friday" -  Mark Alta Orlando (1st) Natalie "He didn't leave any excuses for them but he still does a few little things wrong. But he's tough and has the ability " - Natalie. Holy Grail (3rd) Matt "He went really good. He can sprint home and we had a good enough run but it was a good effort",- Matt. (Sold to Australia but likely to stay at Rolleston until after Sires Stakes finals) Hot Pants (1st) Matt "Yes that is my first win at Addington. Quite a thrill. We had to work a bit early but then we got a nice run and she did the rest"  The Royal Garden (1st) Tim "I thought we had got beaten. He kicks strongly though and that made the difference because he had to do a bit of work into the wind" -Tim. Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here            

The All Tars team have eight runners in tonights harness racing meeting at Addington and the following is how they see their runners chances. 5.55 Stopandstare (5) C0 fillies and mares Ideally placed against own sex. Nathan takes the drive and Stopandstare is owned by Michael and Natalie so the pressure will be on. Dexter's driver Supriya hardest to beat, Rating 8-Improved since Timaru debut and should go close $3.60 FF 7.25 Alta Ronaldo (9) C1 2000m Natalie Hasn't quite matched the top ones but competitive in 1.55 mile rate at Forbury well up to this class and doing well. Awkward draw should not bother from a stand but its his first and he can be a trifle headstrong at times so start crucial. Rating: 9 Should win on form but short odds first stand, $1.40 FF 7.55 Have Faith In Me (1) (Tim)Holy Grail (4) (Matt) Alta Orlando (7)  (Natalie) Change Stride (Mark) Natalie "They are all well though Holy Grail is a bit below the others at this stage. Alta Orlando and Have Faith In Me -not a lot between them. Change Stride is still improving and he got held up here last time and did well late. Have Faith In Me went terrific at Forbury and has the draw. Orlando can beat himself at times but the small field should suit him. He pulled hard last time here and that cost him. The one to beat overall if he does things right. Rating: Lead/trail scenario possible for Orlando ($1.80) and Have Faith In Me ($2.40) gives them the edge on paper and likely quinella. Change Stride looks good e/w bet at the odds just in case. 8.55 Hot Pants (8) C1-C3 trot for Junior Drivers. Matt Won well last time, first from a stand, and trotting solidly. Looks very hard to beat to add to Matt;s JD record but fixed odds price skinny for this sort of race. Rating: Only has to do things right early to be in this. $1.60 FO not great tho. 9.25 The Royal Garden (5) 4yo+ maiden Tim Just cuffed on debut and was coming back at the end.  Natural improvement from that race makes him the one to beat here. $1.40 FO says it all and tote price will be odds on too by race time. Rating: Ready to add to Tim's impressive tally this week Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stable         Check site here

The blue silks with the grey stars of the All Stars team is to harness racing what the All Blacks are to rugby. When ever they have runners in a race you need to show them the utmost respect.  So it is no surprise that a Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen quartet look set to call most of the shots in the fifth heat of the Sires’ Stakes Series tonight night at Addington. The champion stable have four runners engaged in the heat – spear-headed by the talented Alta Orlando. Second behind stable mate Hug The Wind when fresh up a fortnight ago the impressive, but sometimes unruly pacer will be looking to confirm himself a spot in the final by snaring a victory tonight.  The big pacer tends to race rather ungenerously in his races and has a tendency to want to do things wrong a lot of the time. But when on song the Courage Under Fire gelding is devastating – as he showed when winning the Sales Series Final at Addington as a two-year-old. He’s met with some resistance by his opposition including Have Faith In Me who showed he’s got more than his fair share of the family genes with an impressive effort at Forbury Park behind the low-flying Art Union. The full-brother to Adore Me has the use of an inside barrier draw and will be handy to the speed throughout which gives him perfect opportunity to showcase his blistering turn of foot. Natalie Rasmussen will drive Alta Orlando while Tim Williams is aboard Have Faith In Me. The stable’s two lesser lights, if it’s even possible to call them that, are impressive fresh-up winner Holy Grail and Change Stride who was third in behind Hug The Wind and Alta Orlando when last produced. The charge to beat the Purdon quartet will most likely be led by Mighty Flying Major. The talented three-year-old was very good when winning at Addington last week and when on song he is more than capable of footing it with any horse in the Series currently. Expresso Martini and Smithy are the other two contenders in the race. Tonights meeting could turn into somewhat of a Purdon/Rasmussen show with the All Stars stable floating an impressive line-up of horses down the Southern Motorway. Hot Pants will look to make it back-to-back wins in the junior drivers trot later in the night. The Trevor Casey owned trotter was very good when winning last time out and has the added bonus of the mobile to help her cause again tonight. Matt Anderson will do the driving. Stopandstare and The Royal Garden, who both ran solid placings on debut, look grand chances on their first up performances and Alta Ronaldo will take on a modest C1 stand field which should be well within the capable three-year-old’s reach. Courtesy Of Harness Racing New Zealand

The New Zealand Cup hopes of outstanding pacer Smolda hang in the balance after he was pulled out of the main lead-up race. The former Harness Jewels and Derby winner will miss Monday’s Flying Stakes at Ashburton, far and way the best and most important race on the road to the Cup. And that leaves the one-time $6 third favourite for the Cup with few genuine racing opportunities before the Addington classic on November. Smolda started his season was a moderate fourth to Terror To Love last month but was even more disappointing in Sunday’s Methven Cup, in which he lead and faded to fourth again. But this time he wasn’t up against Cup favourites Terror To Love and Christen Me and even more importantly he again looked uncomfortable in his gait, even on the huge grass track. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen had blood test taken from Smolda which failed to shed any light on his lack lustre form so they have chosen to pull him out of the Flying Stakes. With the tight, flat Kaikoura curcuit on November 3 unlikely to suit him, Smolda faces going into the New Zealand Cup with only another minor Addington race or the Cup trial to bring him back to his peak. He has drifted out to $13 with the TAB and it would not surprise to see him bypass the great race, even though he is officially still being aimed in that direction. His absence detracts little from the Flying Stakes in which Terror To Love (9) and Christen (8) will again start from the widest draws, with Hands Christian and Adore Me alongside them, with Franco Nelson, Bit Of A Legend, Franco Ledger and Pembrook Benny adding huge depth to the field. Which made it even more surprising the TAB opened Terror To Love the $2 favourite for Monday and Christen Me at $3. Monday’s meeting also sees most of New Zealand’s best trotters clash in the Flying Mile, with one of the big winners in the draws being northerner Irish Whisper, who has drawn one.  Courtesy Of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

The harness racing trials at Ashburton today saw the All Stars team produce several smart performers from last season, complimented by the odd new face. First up from the barn was the smart qualifier from last week in Classical Art who won her maiden 2400 metre trial from the stand in the manner of a filly going places. Sent straight to the front by driver Mark Purdon, the 3 year old filly by Mach Three dominated throughout and comfortably held out Comacho in 3:04.7 with closing sectionals of 57.8 and 27.2 The All Stars barn lined up four runners in the C1-C2 stand over 2400 metres and ran the first four with all of their runners looking forward to resume. Last season's smart 2 year old filly Fight For Glory looks to have come back in great order after she dealt to a big field with plenty of quality, bursting out of the pack half way up the long Ashburton straight to win easily. Vice Consul was just as comfortably second with Someardensomewhere running home stylishly from last at the 600 metres for third. Last season's very smart 2 year old Itz Bettor To Win battled the last bit to finish fourth after doing plenty of work and he should benefit big time from the run. In the next heat for maiden trotters over 2400 metres from a stand, last seasons 2 year old runner up in the Jewels, Prince Fearless showed he had come back in great fettle with a faultless display to romp in untouched. Sent straight to the front by Mark Purdon, he cut out the 2400 metres in a swift 3:08.2 with closing sectionals of 57.9 and 28.2. He looks in for a big season judging by todays run. The last two All Stars runners were in the C3 and faster pace over 2400 metres from a stand and for once they didn't win the heat. Helena Jet with Dexter Dunn in the bike looped the field at the 1200 metres mark and then brushed home in 55.7 and 26.5 to comfortably hold out Isaiah with Dalton Bromac and Willow close up. All four runners went super with Dalton Bromac being privately timed to run home in 54.5 a minor highlight of this heat. Star Qualifier - Louie Finn Sent straight to the front by trainer /driver Mark Jones, this son of Grinfromeartoear looked to have plenty in reserve as he qualified 7 seconds under the required  time after brushing home in 57.2 and 27.8. Other trialists of note Beyond Belief - 3 year old filly by Shadow Play who showed plenty of potential winning her heat Mighty Flying Mac - Dexter still had a lap full of horse even after a last quarter in 26 That Guy Finn - Made up a lot of ground in fastly run heat   Harnesslink Media  

A lot of New Zealand harness racing trainers will vary the program of their stable stars as they head to a race such as the New Zealand Cup. Many different paths are taken, all with the intent of arriving at the second Tuesday in November in peak condition. However to say that the path taken to this years Cup by last years runner up Fly Like An Eagle is outside of the square would be a massive understatement. In a surprise move, champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have decided that a C2 front mobile mile on "Ladies" day at Wairio will be the starting point for Fly Like An Eagle this season.  The son of Mach Three was in great from leading into last years New Zealand Cup which culminated with a close second to Terror To Love in the Cup itself but then the form of Fly Like An Eagle fell away due to a series of niggling issues especially on his Australian sojourn. Since being returned to the All Stars barn at the end of last season, Mark and Natalie have done a wonderful job in bringing Fly Like An Eagle back to the track in such great physical condition. Two trials this time in have seen him make sizzling beginnings and run big sectionals to be collared late in the piece by more seasoned runners such as Christen Me and Smolda. After yesterdays trial, the All Stars brains trust thought they even though his run had been super, Fly Like An Eagle had not been completely at the top of his game. "We are going to head to the mile at Wairio with him," said Mark "Natalie was thrilled with how he went but felt he was a bit down on confidence. He had a hard time of it in Australia last season and it has affected his confidence a touch so that is why he is at Wairio instead of Methven," he said. To be driven by in form stable reinsman Tim Williams, Fly Like An Eagle has drawn the outside barrier of seven in the small field and looks a class above them on paper. While running over a mile at Wairio might not be everyone's idea of a good lead up for a tough two mile on Cup Day, Mark and Natalie have shown again and again that they know how to get the best out of their charges.  Fly Like An Eagle showed last year he was up to winning a New Zealand Cup and he looks on track to again be a major player in this years event. Harnesslink Media

One of the highlights of the harness racing trials at Addington today (October 13th) was the return to the track of the champion filly from last season, Venus Serena. Drawing barrier seven in a field chock full of class, Venus Serena dropped back to last early for regular pilot, John Dunn before sliding forward from the 900 metres to end up outside the leader Smiling Star at the 800 metres mark. Applying a bit more pressure as they turned for home, Venus Serena quickly put the issue beyond doubt, winning by 3/4 length from Vice Consul with Smiling Star and Willow next in line. Venus Serena covered the 1950 metres in 2:27.4 with closing sectionals of 56 and 27.4 Trainer Geoff Dunn couldn't get the smile off his face straight after the trial. " That was her first serious hit out this time in. I thought she would run out of condition in the last 200 metres but she looked to do it within herself and Johnny hardly moved in the cart," he said "She will derive enormous benefit from that trial. All going well, she will be ready for Cup week," he said  The big bangers from the Purdon/Rasmussen barn all lined up in the 2600 metres stand and all three look ready to rumble. Fly Like An Eagle in the hands of Natalie made a flyer from 40 metres and was third after 150 metres as Cyclone Kiwi set up a steady tempo in front. Messini, with Tim Williams in the bike ended up on the back of Fly Like An Eagle while Smolda with Mark Purdon doing the steering followed Messini. Passing the 900 metres mark Natalie lit the after burners on Fly Like An Eagle and the the quarter down the back was cut out in 27.4 As they turned for home Fly Like An Eagle surged clear but Messini who had followed him from the 900 metres mark nailed him about 100 metres out and then Smolda claimed them both for a narrow but impressive win. The 2600 metres from a stand was cut out in 3:14.1, a mile rate of 2:00.1 with the last 800 metres in 55 and 400 metres in 27.6  After the trial Mark Purdon signaled a change of plan with Fly Like An Eagle. " We are going to head to the mile at Wairio with him. Natalie was thrilled with how he went but felt he was a bit down on confidence at the moment after he lost form at the end of last season so that is why he is at Wairio instead of Methven," he said. Qualifiers - The standout was the 3 year old Mach Three filly Classical Art from the All Star barn who in the hands of Mark Purdon paced the 2000 metres from the mobile in 2:28, a mile rate of 1:59 with closing sectionals of 58.1 and 29.4. From an Artsplace daughter of the former champion filly Under Cover Lover, Classical Art looks to have inherited all the family ability Harnesslink Media

Meticulous was supposed to be sold before he raced at Addington on Friday -but his connections are glad now that he wasn't. Syndicate manager, Phil Kennard, was at All Stars stable before 7 am on Friday to decide with Mark and Natalie what course they should follow. An Australian offer was on the table, Meticulous had passed vet tests and he seemed set for sale. But the prospective buyers wanted to check out another detail and wanted the horse scratched pending the sale. "It was a $20,000 race and we didn't want to do that. Then it came to maybe a late scratching and we weren't happy with that either. It was indicated that if he won the sale would be off. I didn't think it was fair on our partners to scratch and we decided to go ahead. The way things are we are not worried whether we sell him or not" Meticulous has now won four on end and the latest was as easy as the rest. Tim had him cranked out from the outside of the gate and got the front from Backup which was happy to trail. Tim dictated but Meticulous still ran home in 27.9 to win untested. It was a great fillip for the syndicate who have had more than their share of troubles with Meticulous who had more than one smackup on raceday and then a wind problem. But he has staged a great comeback. Oh and one who was very pleased about the failure of the sale ? Ashleigh (to the right of the winner). Meticulous is just her favourite horse in the stable and she is more than happy he is to stay. Courtesy Of All Star Racing - Check site here    

Mark and Natalie have been around top horses for a long time and Mark's list of leading New Zealand Cup contenders is a lengthy one. But even among so many individuals Smolda stands out -and not because he is difficult to deal with. Its just that he can be a bit of a mystery. Top trainers don't like mysteries especially leading in to big races. The reason Mark has had so many expert Cup preps_and now Natalie too is that they are experts at looking at a horse and see things other people miss. They also time a star against the clock and still know that all is not well even if the clock says it is. Yes they monitor all the usual things, heart rates, feed bins, any signs of change. But all good trainers can do that. The difference between the good and the great is something else-the sixth sense, the feeling there is something going on which needs more investigating even before the experts are called in. That is where Smolda can present problems-because he hates any fuss-about anything. "He's always been a very laid back sort of horse" Mark says. "It is hard to get a line on his work and always has been. He does what he has to and its always good work but you are left wondering just how good it was just how forward he is. It is not until you get to the trials or raceday you find that out fully" There was a good example  last January when Smolda in his first race in yonks buried a field at Addington in 3.10 and change. Even Mark was surprised by that one. "Sometimes you forget how good he is" he said then. But its his laid back approach which gives his trainers plenty of time for thinking. Before his season debut he seemed pretty forward but racenight proved otherwise. Even Mark looked a tad disappointed but he just thought Smolda needed more racing. Then he thought maybe there was something else. Blood tests required. They came back perfect. But something was niggling at Mark and Natalie. Sure enough a second round of tests showed a white cell count amiss. In between Smolda ate away at the same rate and did everything else by the book. Many horses test the skills and patience of their trainers but not all because they are so relaxed and easy going. So in any race Smolda is stepping out in there is even for experts, a little doubt as to what is going to happen. He'll be good of course-but how good? Sometimes only Smolda knows. And he's not telling! Courtesy Of All Star Racing - Check site here

Race 1 Winner: Meticulous Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Tim Williams Owners: Phil & Glenys Kennard Bloodstock Ltd, Grant Dickey, Rex & Heather Knowler, Stewart Gillan and Phil Creighton.  The For Sale sign has been taken down from the window of Meticulous. For most of this week there was speculation the Christian Cullen four-year-old would be withdrawn from this week’s assignment due to a pending sale which never eventuated. Now, following the impressive geldings eighth win from 21 starts, Mark Purdon is quite keen to keep him in the barn. “It’s probably a bit hard to sell him after that,’’ he said. “He’s had his fair share of problems, but right now he seems the best he has ever been in terms of his calmness. “He could carry on and do quite a nice job I think.’’ Handled expertly by Tim Williams, the speedy pacer crossed the outside of the front line from his 9 barrier and led with ease. Stablemate, Backup sat on his back throughout and was the only one close at the finish when running second.  The one for next time: Phoenix Warrior: Left in no man’s land from the barrier draw but managed to weave a path through from near last at the 800 metre mark to finish a bold third.   Race 2 Winner: Hug The Wind Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owners: Anne & Tony Parker, Jim and Ann Gibbs and Kevin Warneford Mark Purdon might have picked Alta Orlando to win the Sires’ Stake heat but that never meant he didn’t think he couldn’t win it with his drive, Hug The Wind. As it turned out his prediction proved wrong as he and Hug The Wind wore down Natalie Rasmussen and Alta Orlando in the shadows of the post. “He kept giving and trying the whole way up the straight,’’ he said. “He’s a beautiful cut of a horse and he has quite a future. “I would expect he would improve a bit with the run too as he is still carrying a bit of condition.’’ Rasmussen revealed that Alta Orlando’s tendencies to make life difficult for himself by over racing and wanting to things wrong seem to have carried into his three-year-old days. “He’s just fighting a bit too much out there and pulled to hard tonight,’’ she said. “But hopefully with a few good runs under his belt those wee issues might sort themselves out.’’ The All Stars Stable made it a clean sweep of the race by picking up third placing with Change Stride who snuck along the markers to complete a stable trifecta. The one for next time: Zin Zan: Got going quite late in proceedings after looking like he was labouring at the top of the straight. A good run in his first look at the elite company.   Race: 3 Winner: Donaldson Trainer: Greg and Nina Hope Driver: Stevie Golding Owners: Greg & Nina Hope, Morrie Molloy, William Middleton and the Coffey Family Syndicate. Greg Hope feels Donaldson deserves a crack at the Dominion Handicap during Cup Week, but he’s not sure whether or not he will get the chance. The consistent trotter mate it win number seven against a small but handy field in the lower grade trot continuing a great run this season for himself and his young driver, Stevie Golding. The pair have footed it with the best in Canterbury and took the opportunity to drop in grade this week and then went and made the most of it. “He’s been really good this time in,’’ Greg Hope said. “I’d like to think he could work his way into the Dominion but he’s quite low in the grades so it might be hard for him. “He definitely deserves a shot though.’’ Golding joined up with the Woodend Beach stable at the start of the season and has been in a purple patch of form winning six races and currently leading the national junior drivers premiership. He showed real patience with the son of Earl keep him held up until he could have one shot at them in the run to the line, snatching victory from the jaws of Rare Opportunity who was a brave runner up. The one for next time: Oh Nova: Nothing really went right for the speedy little trotter. Got caught on the markers but was putting gin some pretty telling strides late in the piece. Race: 4 Winner: Bio Marinus Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owners: Lavros Lodge Ltd Usually a horse who takes him time to come to peak fitness after a spell, Bio Marinus has, for this campaign anyway, hit the ground running at full speed. After a bold fresh-up second behind the smart Wesley Silcox last week the Art Major four-year-old was very impressive winning after sitting parked for the last lap and then wearing down a brave Billie’s A Star in the run to the line. “He probably wasn’t travelling that good at the top of the straight. “But each time I asked him for some effort he gave me a little bit more. “He’s not an all and all out star, but he is a very nice horse who will keep doing a good job.’’ Billie’s A Star was massive in defeat and will snare another win at short notice for Phil Burrows. The one for next time: Nicky’s Dynamic: Dragged the three wide line up in the last lap and never gave up the task in the run to the line. Should drop into something a little easier in the coming weeks and be hard to beat.     Race: 5 Winner: Habibti Trainer: David and Catherine Butt Driver: David Butt Owners: Robert Paterson, Birchbrook Breeding Ltd, Lynne Paterson David Butt isn’t quite sure what to make of Habibti. The Woodend Beach horseman hasn’t been all that happy with his star performer so far this season, but each time he takes the brilliant mare to the races she seems to lift. That was the case this week when she wore down a star-studded field in the Group 3 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup, showing her blistering turn of foot. “She surprised me a bit to be honest,’’ Butt said. “I haven’t been at all happy with her at home, but she’s certainly lifted when we have taken her to the races that is for sure.’’ Camped off the speed while those in front were running a hot pace, Butt angled Habibti to the middle of the track and she stormed home to win impressively from Mr Consistent AKA: Sheemon with Stent third and Master Lavros fourth. Butt will now point Habibti toward a run at Methven next week off a long handicap in a $13,000 Fillies and Mares’ Trot. Mark Jones reported he was much happier with Master Lavros whose condition told inside the final 200 metres. The one for next time: Superbowlcheerleader: Forced to sit parked on a hot speed the tough mare never shirked the challenge and although beaten she kept fighting.     Race: 6 Winner: Tiger Tara Trainer: Geoff Dunn Driver: Gerard O’Reilly Owners: Bob & Jen Sandford, John Gould and Geoff Dunn Don’t be fooled by the narrow margin, Tiger Tara made things look a little more difficult than they were. The Geoff Dunn trained pacer continued his incredible run which should culminate in a run in the New Zealand Trotting Cup with a tradesman like performance in a small, but talented intermediate grade pace. In front and rolling along the tough little pacer showed, again, his liking to allow horses to get close to  him before kicking clear again. “He’s just mucking around,’’ Gerard O’Reilly said. “At the end of the race he was actually doing it pretty easily.’’ Dunn will now consider his options looking forward with Tiger Tara already inside the cut off line in the rankings for the Cup. He may look to keep him away from the big guns for as long as possible which could mean he won’t take them on until Cup Day itself. American import, Johny Rock, was a very good second after flying out of the mobile gate and he will continue to improve as he gets more racing under his belt. The one for next time: Mighty Flying Mac: Expect this guy to take huge benefit out of his first up run. He wasn’t far away but clearly his condition told in the closing stages.     Race: 7 Winner: Terror To Love Trainer: Graham and Paul Court Driver: Ricky May Owner: Terry McDonald If connections of horses in the New Zealand Trotting Cup weren’t already worried about Terror To Love, they are now. The three-time New Zealand Trotting Cup winners was simply freakish in winning the Canterbury Classic coming from a mile off the speed to breeze on by some quality opposition and win in style. In a typically patient and no fuss fashion, Ricky May never panicked despite at one stage being at least 15 lengths off the leader, Pure Power. Forced wide on the bend, Terror To Love was vulnerable without doubt but he flattened out and stormed into it. “His speed is pretty unreal,’’ May said. “He picked them up pretty easily in the end, it was a really good performance.’’ The win left the camp behind the champ all smiles with Paul and Graham Court both adamant there is still some improvement to come yet. What was more concerning was that he had a small gallop at the beginning of the race. “He actually paced away, and then things got a little tight and I think he got a fright. “I don’t know if we need to be too concerned about it but it doesn’t help the cause.’’ In behind the action there were plenty of meritorious performances. Franco Nelson boomed home from well back as well to nab second while Christen Me who was forced to sit parked on a slick pacer was brave to the end in running third. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen pairing of Hands Christian and Adore Me were both hitting the line well – as was Four Starzzz Flash. The one for next time: Adore Me: She made up a tonne of ground. A really good starting performance from wonderful mare. She won’t be out of contention in a Cup.     Race: 8 Winner: Parramatta Trainer: Terry and Glenys Chmiel Driver: Terry Chmiel Owners: Audrey and Thomas Piercy Terry Chmiel has always had a high opinion of Parramatta and this week he showed why. The talented four-year-old entire overcame an outside of the second row barrier draw to win the Super Series final for horses who were graded as CO at the 9th of August. Chmiel took bad luck out of the equation by pushing forward from his back row draw to find the lead within the first 600 metres and from there he dominated – dashing away to win in stylish fashion by a big margin. Out of the former speedy mare Sheng Li, the son of McArdle has had raps on him since day one. “He’s going to be a pretty nice horse in time,’’ Chmiel said following an earlier win. Parramatta was the fifth winner for the stable for the season who set a personal best tally of 36 last term. Brilliant Strike who worked around to sit parked outside the winner kept whacking away up the straight and will win a race at short notice. The one for next time: Bird Of Paradise: Was probably going to run second had it not been for a check late in proceedings. One for odds in the coming weeks.     Race: 9 Winner: Hot Pants Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owner: Trevor Casey and Natalie Rasmussen Trevor Casey had double the reason to smile this week. Not only did his star trotter Stent return to form with a good third in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup but he also produced a winner with Hot Pants who he co-owns along with Natalie Rasmussen. After a luckless resuming run, the speedy little trotter took luck out of the equation by working to the lead early in proceedings before handing the lead to Shell Seeker with a lap left to run. With one cold shot at them the daughter of Majestic Son was too slick The race itself was farcical with gallopers a plenty both early and late in the race. After training six winners for the season prior to the night beginning, Purdon and Rasmussen almost doubled their tally in one night with a quartet of wins. That puts them right up into the top three or four trainers for the season. The one for next time: Indiana Jones: Making up huge ground late in the piece and looks set to be in for a good few months. Trotter with a lot of ability.     Race: 10 Winner: Mr Franklin Trainer: Steve Dolan Driver: Blair Orange Owner: Mark Wotton, Max Braithwaite, Neil Struthers, Wayne Milligan, Simon Consedine and John Gould. Good manners, a perfect drive and some good old fashioned luck all led to back-to-back victories for Mr Franklin. The Steve Dolan trained pacer was very good winning a junior drivers race last week when handled perfectly by Tom Bagrie but he stepped up a level again this week to sneak along the markers and grab a very brave Provocative Prince in the shadows of the post. When race favourite, Tokahoka went bush on the bend and extinguished his chances Orange seized on the opportunity to sneak to the inside and grab the dream run along the markers to sneak the win. A four-year-old gelding by Grinfromeartoear has now won four from 22 and placed on a further six occasions. The runner up, Provocative Prince was massive in second after doing plenty of work and only faded in the dying the stages – will win one soon. The one for next time: Johnny Eyre: Came from a long way back again and only needs an ounce of luck before he wins a race – maybe Methven next week?     Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand                                                                            

Rising star Smolda remains on target for New Zealand harness racing’s biggest event despite being missing from this weekend’s fixtures. Originally planning to start the son of Courage Under Fire at Addington on Friday night, co-trainer Mark Purdon has elected to keep Smolda fresh ahead of the New Zealand Cup. Purdon based his decision of Smolda’s track work this week, during which the six-year-old “wasn’t that impressive”. “He didn’t work as well as we would like, so Mark made the call not to race him this week,” co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen said. “He went okay, but just wasn’t that impressive. “We’re getting his blood tested to make sure he’s not crook. Given the Cup is so close, it’s not worth pushing on and better to err on the side of caution.” Although Smolda will be missing from his lead-up target, Purdon and Rasmussen will have dual representation in the Christian Cullen Canterbury Classic. The duo have entered Adore Me and comeback pacer Hands Christian, with both returning from spells. Adore Me, which has drawn seven, hasn’t raced since winning the Jewels last May, while Hands Christian has been sidelined for 29 months. Troubled by leg problems, Hands Christian has trialled in solid fashion, with Rasmussen confident of a forward showing from the seven-year-old. “He’s been off the scene for a long time, but we are happy with where is at,” Rasmussen said. Citing Terror To Love and Christen Me as the pair to beat, Rasmussen feels Hands Christian “is ready to surprise a few.” Terror To Love will come from nine, with Christen Me in 10. “Hands Christian’s had three trials and done well in those, plus his work has been good,” Rasmussen said. “Nothing beats race fitness, so whatever he does this week, he will improve on…they both will. “It’s hard to look past Terror To Love and Christen Me, with which one gets the better run the only thing separating them. “You’d expect them to run the quinella.” PAUL COURTS

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