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Most harness racing pundits previewing this afternoons New South Wales Derby saw it as a two horse war with Hug The Wind from barrier one preferred over Ideal For Real who had landed the dreaded barrier of nine. The early races had the All Star barn runners on fire with Fight For Glory and Adore Me both being brilliant winners and punters thought the streak would continue in the Derby making Hug The Wind a clear favourite. Sporty Spook flew the gate as he can and grabbed the early lead while Natalie Rasmussen let Hug The Wind find his feet early before sending him forward to the lead. Gavin Lang on Ideal For Real settled second last in the running line early while the other well supported runner in Art Union with Dexter Dunn in the bike was parked outside the leader. With just over a lap to go Gavin Lang sent Ideal For Real around the field and he landed in the death seat outside Hug The Wind with 1100 metres to go. Natalie held the leader back to the field in the quarter down the back in 28.1 before going for broke as they turned for home. Gavin Lang never panicked and slowly but surely got to Hug The Wind with Ideal For Real nailing him by half a head in the last stride. What made the victory even meritorious was the last quarter was cut out in a blistering 25.8 Sporty Spooky fought on for third just in front of Art Union. The Emma Stewart trained colt is an all American bred being by American Ideal from the imported Real Desire mare in Tamara Hall. Noted previously for his high speed off a sit, Ideal For Real showed today that he has developed an all round game as the season has progressed. Harnesslink Media

The first of the features on harness racings big day at Menangle today was the New South Wales Oaks and all week it was touted as a two horse war between Delight Me and Fight For Glory. Both of these runners had been super impressive in the heats last week but the draw had treated Delight Me really well with her drawing barrier one where as Fight For Glory had been given the visitors draw of eleven. The pair were even money earlier in the week but as we got closer to the race the money continued to come for Fight For Glory and she started the favourite today. As expected Delightful Lana and Dexter Dunn flew the gate and grabbed an early lead from barrier nine with Makes Every Scents and Luke McCarthy settling into the trail. Delight Me and Gavin Lang were slow out from barrier one while Fight For Glory and Natalie Rasmussen came out fast and ended up in the death seat early with Delight Me getting onto her back. After 600 metres Natalie pushed the go button and surged to the front but not before Dexter made her work for it. That left Delight Me parked and Natalie kept Fight For Glory running making Delight Me's job even harder.  Passing the 800 metres mark Natalie gave Fight For Glory her head and she roared down the back in 27.2 with Delight Me and Delightful Lana starting to feel the pinch a bit. Just when you would think Fight For Glory would be vulnerable she paced away from her competition with another quarter of 27.2 to win with a breathtaking performance. Delight Me fought on gamely for second with Delightful Lana fighting just as strongly for third with Smooth Showgirl finishing on late for fourth. Not only was the performance of Fight For Glory to win from barrier nine super impressive but her overall time of 2:50.3 was a new race record to boot. Fight For Glory is a daughter of Art Major from the former New Zealand record holder Breath Of Life 1:56.9 ($109,034) and has hit a purple patch of form with todays victory her fourth in a row. Harnesslink Media  

The final heat for the two year old fillies in harness racing's Young Gun Series was held tonight at Alexandra Park  and it was no surprise when the two fillies from the All Star barn fought out a close finish with the resulted evenly shared. Dream About Me and Arden's Choice ran the quinella in the $25,000 Sires Stakes heat at Timaru when they were both on debut and they did it again tonight with Dream About Me again grabbing the win although the margin over  Arden's Choice was only a nose this time. The race turned into a bit of a melee early when both the well supported Nek Time and Goodlookingbabe galloped when disputing the lead after 300 metres which resulted in quite a few of the runners being checked. When the dust settled Gamma Lady and Josh Dickie were left in front with Dream About Me with Tim Williams in the bike parked on her wheel. Natalie Rasmussen set Arden's Choice alight at the 900 metres mark and she quickly made it to the death seat giving Dream About Me a lovely sit in the one by one. Those three went clear at the 400 metres and as they turned for home Ardens Choice worked to the front but was immediately challenged by Dream About Me who had cut the corner and snuck up the passing lane to save ground. There was nothing between them all the way up the straight but at the line Dream About Me was a nose to the good of Arden's Choice with a further 2 3/4 lengths back to Gamma Lady in third. The 1700 metres was cut out in 2:05, a mile rate of 1:58.3 with closing sectionals of 57.4 and 27.6 The runs of the first two were both full of merit and which ever one draws better in the $80,000 Final of the Young Guns next week probably deserves favouritism. Dream About Me did get her head around several times during the running and will benefit next week after her first run right handed. Dream About Me is an out and out "blue blood' being a  Bettor's Delight half sister to the champion Christen Me. Her dam of course is a half sister to Adore Me so it just doesn't get any better than that. Driver Tim Williams was happy enough with the run of Dream About Me. " She is still very green and has a lot to learn." " It was her first run right handed and she should benefit immensely from the experience." " Taking the passing lane helped her round the last bend and I was just lucky it worked out," Tim said. The All Stars pair look a class above the fillies to have raced in the series to date and appear the logical quinella in next weeks final. Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing two year olds are only a week away from the first of this seasons Group 1 races with the the finals of the Young Guns series and Chase The Dream sent all the other two year olds involved in the colts section a clear message that he is the horse to beat next week with an emphatic victory at Alexandra Park tonight. Stable mate Lazarus has looked very professional in two earlier wins in the Young Guns series late last year but Chase The Dream was every bit as impressive tonight at Alexandra Park. Driver Natalie Rasmussen dropped him off the gate from barrier eight and Chase The Dream ended up last and fifteen lengths off the lead after 400 metres. Natalie then gave him his head and in the next 600 metres he went from last to first as he swept to the lead over last start winner Walkinshaw. Held back to the field down the back straight, Chase The Dream shot away at the point of the turn and gave nothing else a look in as he cruised home by 2 3/4 lengths. What made the run even more impressive was the 1700 metres was cut out in a quick 2:04.1, a mile rate of 1:57.3 with closing sectionals of 59 and 28.3 Chase The Dream won his debut run left handed when taking out the Sapling Stakes at Ashburton in 1:54.9 but Natalie was confident of his chances tonight right handed. " He actually goes better this way round at home," Natalie told Trackside prior to the race. A son of champion sire Bettor's Delight, Chase The Dream is from a Christian Cullen daughter of the former star two and three year old Western Dream 1:56.3 ($327,137) and was brought out of last years Premier Sale at Christchurch by long time All Star client, Jean Feiss of Melbourne for $52,500. Natalie was suitably impressed. " He is a very versatile little horse." " I think he is as quick as he is strong so you have options with him" " He felt really great out there tonight." " He is pretty green so it was good to give him a really good look at the track this week," Natalie said. The manner of Chase The Dream's victory tonight will have shaken the confidence of all of his opponents including Lazarus leading into next weeks $100,000  Young Guns Final. Harnesslink Media  

We continue our previews of harness racings big day at Menangle Inter Dominion day on Sunday and this time the focus is on the three year olds in the New South Wales Derby.  New South Wales Derby 1) Hug The Wind - Starts 12 - Wins 5 - Seconds 5 - Thirds 1  -  Stakes $202,234 One real classy three year old who has the draw to dominate this race. Won his heat from the death seat in what was his first run for seven weeks so natural improvement makes him very hard to beat. Has real gate speed as he showed at Auckland on New Year's eve and the all round game to take advantage of his draw. Natalie is driving in super touch at the moment so this combination looks terribly hard to beat. 2) Kilcullen - Starts 10 - Wins 4 - Seconds 1 - Thirds 0  -  Stakes $48,173 Kilcullen has been disappointing in the main when lined up against the better three year olds. Kilcullen was poor in his heat of the Victorian Derby from barrier two and although he death seated for the last round in his Derby heat last Saturday, the first three got away on him the last bit. Doesn't look to get off the gate at all in his races so two draw is not a big positive Not for us. 3) Art Union - Starts 21 - Wins 12 - Seconds 5 - Thirds 1  -  Stakes $130,555 Was a touch down on his best in his heat last week in our opinion. At his best he would have won that heat from in front but was under pressure a fair way out. Does have an all round game and great trainer/driver combination in his corner so can turn it around. Hard to see him beating Hug The Wind but big chance to run the quinella and a must have for trifecta and first four takers. 4) Burnaholeinmypocket - Starts 9 - Wins 4 - Seconds 1 - Thirds 1  -  Stakes $29,252 (2nd Emerg) He had only had one run this season leading into his heat last Saturday night and he didn't do himself any favours by over racing badly through the first 800 metres. Never left the inner in getting home well for sixth in a fast run last quarter and hard to see how he could improve enough to be a player in this even if he made it back into the field from the ballot. Not for us. 5) Sluggem - Starts 6 - Wins 2 - Seconds 1 - Thirds  -  Stakes $15,898 Very inexperienced horse but does have a big future. Settled last in his heat and made ground stylishly late in the piece. Formerly with the All Star barn in New Zealand and showed plenty of ticker when winning for them at Auckland at Xmas time. Hasn't got the all round game yet to challenge a few here but will be running on. Outside first four player for us. 6) Lets Cut Loose - Starts 11 - Wins 2 - Seconds 4 - Thirds 2  -  Stakes $18,854 He had nine starts in New Zealand before coming to Australia and none of them were in top three year old company which raises questions for us. He had the run of the race last week on Hug The Wind's back but couldn't stay with him in the straight after drawing barrier one which doesn't instill confidence either. Harder draw and field this week in the Derby means we struggle to see him as a major player. Not for us 7) Corporal Luna - Starts 15 - Wins 6 - Seconds 1 - Thirds 2  -  Stakes $34,582 Built up a strong record in Queensland but was only ok in his Derby heat last Saturday night at Menangle. Didn't take advantage of his barrier draw of two and ended up four back on the inner and even though he ran home well in a quick last quarter, he was still a fair way from the winner. Stronger field and worst draw makes it mission impossible in our view. Not for us 8) Sporty Spook - Starts 17 - Wins 9 - Seconds 4 - Thirds 2  -  Stakes $83,050 Showed blinding gate speed to lead from barrier nine last week but did badly check a horse coming across which the driver copped three weeks for. Fought on well when clear so plenty of merit in the run for us. Plenty of gate speed inside him in the Derby so not sure same strategy of burning the gate will work this week. First four chance if driven a bit more conservatively this week in our view. 9) Padrisimo - Starts 10 - Wins 6 - Seconds 2 - Thirds 0  -  Stakes $75,505 High class colt who has not had the ideal preparation for a gruelling 2400 metres. His run in the heats last Saturday night was his first for nine weeks and only his third in eleven months which makes it very hard to see him being a major player here. Should have improved bigtime with the run but too many questions remain in our view. Not for us 10) Ideal For Real - Starts 9 - Wins 4 - Seconds 1 - Thirds 2  -  Stakes $52,185 Not the draw his connections would have been hoping for. Does pocess blinding speed if held up for one run as he showed in his Derby heat last Saturday night and in his heat of the Victorian Derby before that. Gavin Lang is just the man to get this American bred colt the run he needs but he is going to need Hug The Wind to have a run from hell to get him home over the top of that horse from barrier nine in our opinion. A winning chance and a must for quinella, trifecta and first four takers.  11) Aztec Bromac - Starts 8 - Wins 4 - Seconds 1 - Thirds 1  -  Stakes If this horse had drawn better he would be a huge trifecta and first four player. Won his Victoria Derby heat beating Ideal For Real before being flattened in the final. Pushed Hug The Wind for a long way in his heat and was well clear of the pack in second. Draw makes it hard but we have a lot of time for this horse. Definite trifecta and first four player even from the draw. 12) Spare Me Days - Starts 14 - Wins 6 - Seconds 0 - Thirds 5  -  Stakes $98,940 (1st Emerg) Picked a bad time in his Derby heat to run off on the last bend costing himself a couple of lengths which cost him his starting spot in the Derby. From the draw and on last weeks run, he would be up against it in our opinion if he did make it back into the field. Has a great overall record but not for us in this field  Selections Hard to go past Hug The Wind in one for us The danger is undoubtedly Ideal For Real This two look a wee bit better than the rest of the field on last weeks runs. The horses to make up the trifectas and first fours are Art Union, Sluggem, Sporty Spook and Aztec Bromac   Harnesslink Media    

Harness racings big day on Sunday at Menangle features several great clashes and we thought we would preview them all this week with a runner by runner assessment First up is the Ladyship Mile. 1) Frith - Starts 40 -  Wins 30 - Seconds 6 -Thirds 2  -  Stakes $819,572 Frith is surprisingly only having her third lifetime start over a mile, all of which have been at Menangle with her best time to date being 1:53 We are not convinced the one draw suits her that much as say two or three as there is plenty of gate speed outside Frith and she may end up getting crossed at the start. She is a great stayer but hasn't had a run for a month so question marks remain about her race fitness but her class will take her a long way. One of Adore Me's two biggest  threats. 2) Pas Ultimate Delight - Starts - 41 - Wins 12 - Seconds 4 - Thirds 6  -  Stakes $134,411 Has continued to improve since coming to Australia but this still looks a bit rich at this stage.  Does have a best time of 1:52.3 and from her draw of two we think Lauren will make a serious play for the front early but we are of the opinion Pas Ultimate Delight is better driven with a sit and we give her an outside first  four chance if she is driven like that. 3) Dynamite Denn Nee - Starts 90 - Wins 17 - Seconds 15 - Thirds 12 - Stakes $181,628  (2nd Emrg) Has been in good touch lately including a second to Frith two starts back so probably unlucky to be on the ballot but is unlikely to get a start. Rough first four player if she did. 4) Beauty Secret - Starts 54 - Wins 24 - Seconds - 9 - Thirds 4  -  Stakes $ 393,451 Will come into barrier three if there are no scratchings and from there she is a real danger to the two favourites.  Has real gate speed if Gavin Lang wants to use it and can also run a big half if held up as she showed in the Robin Dundee on Miracle Mile night where she brushed home in 54 flat in front. Has the all round game to trouble the two favourites and with Gavin in the bike you just know he will give her the run that she needs. 5) Major Foxy Styx - Starts - 24 - Wins 11 - Seconds 4 - Thirds - 1  -  Stakes $197,830  Has built up a great record in Perth and stamped that form with a win in the Ladyship Cup at Melton on Hunter Cup night beating amongst others Beauty Secret.  However  she did get a dream run that night and even with the mercurial Luke McCarthy in the bike we can't see her winning the race on Sunday with the three favourites having a class edge but she is still a definite first four player for us. 6) Tact Hayleys Delight - Starts 72 - Wins 11 - Seconds 15 - Thirds - 6  -  Stakes $160,016 In career best form at the moment but from the draw we think she has a hard job to get some of this. We think she will have to go back from the draw and try to have one run at them late in the race but we can't see her rolling over the top of  the favourites and for us she is an outside place chance at best. 7) Laterron - Starts 82 - Wins 16 - Seconds 16 - Thirds 11  -  Stakes $173,515 - ( 1st Emer ) Produced a great run when a handy fourth to Adore Me in the Brian Hancock Cup on Saturday night and her connections must feel slightly aggrieved to be on the ballot.  Laterron has beaten Elusive Chick home the last three times they have met and that combined with the run in the Brian Hancock Cup should have seen her make the field. Great place chance if she gains re-entry into the field. 8) Courageousnquick - Starts 42 - Wins 16 - Seconds 6 - Thirds 4  -  Stakes $204,352 Quality mare who has just had two runs back from a spell but the draw has negated her biggest asset which is her blinding gate speed. We still think that Anthony Butt will press the go button early and if she happened to get the front she would present all kind of problems for Frith. Definite place chance if "Ants" can work his magic early 9) Rathmore Lady - Starts 76 - Wins 17 - Seconds 19 - Thirds 8  -  Stakes $147,976  On her day a very handy mare but is inconsistent and can throw the toys out of the cot every now and again. On her best behaviour she would be a rough first four chance but the draw and the quality of the field leads us to think she has a mountain to climb.  Not for us. 10) Pemberton Shard - Starts 55 - Wins 11 - Seconds 7 - Thirds 11  -  Stakes $212 997 If there is a smokey in this years race then Pemberton Shard is it for us. A mile is maybe a touch short of her best but she is a super tough mare who needs the speed on and that's exactly what she will get on Sunday. Has struggled to cope with Adore Me in New Zealand but then again who hasn't  and has gone some great races in behind her in mares races. Dexter Dunn in the bike is a big plus and she is a big first four player for us. 11) Elusive Chick - Starts 57 - Wins 13 - Seconds 11 - Thirds 11  -  Stakes $389,147 A high quality mare who was in good form earlier in the season but whose form has tapered off badly with her only placing in her last six starts a win in a five horse field just before Xmas. Throw in the draw for a mare who likes to race on the speed and we struggle to see her running in four. Not for us. 12) Adore Me - Starts 34 - Wins 25 - Seconds 4 - Thirds 2  -  Stakes $1,503,429  A great racemare who has the same visitors draw as she had last year when she was beaten. The field this year is stronger in our opinion but Adore Me has gone to another level this season as well. This year the All Stars team have arrived earlier and given her a run leading into the race which is all a positive in our book. The change of driver took us by surprise a bit but Natalie has been in unbelievable form this season in New Zealand and the change is a plus not a minus in our view. Clear first pick for us even from the draw. Selections Adore Me is a clear first pick for us In the end we couldn't separate Frith and Beauty Secret for second even if logic said Frith Others to throw into multiples include Courageousnquick, Pemberton Shard, Major Foxy Styx and if you are going a bit wider Tact Hayleys Delight. Harnesslink Media

The third New South Wales Oaks heat at the harness racing meeting at Menangle tonight was promoted as a real trans tasman battle. In the Australian corner was the very smart Sportswriter filly Read About Lexy who has been in great form recently and drew the coverted barrier one. In the New Zealand corner was the equally smart Art Major filly Fight For Glory who won her last start at Ashburton in a very smart 1:54.5. Read About Lexy lead early from barrier one for trainer /driver Bernie Hewitt after repulsing an early challenge while Natalie Rasmussen slotted Fight For Glory into the one by one early from barrier three. After 500 metres Natalie set Fight For Glory alight and quickly went to the front with Bernie aboard Read About Lexy happy to take a trail behind his biggest danger. Keeping up a steady tempo, Natalie turned up the wick from the 800 metres and brushed down the back in 27.8 before letting Fight For Glory have her head as they turned for home and she ran away over the last 400 metres in 27.1 for an emphatic victory with Natalie hardly moving in the bike. Read About Lexy battled on well for a distant second just in front of Lovelist. Fight For Glory paced the 2400 metres in 2:54.9, a mile rate of 1:57.3 with closing sectionals of 54.9 and 27.1 Fight For Glory is a daughter of the former New Zealand record holder Breath Of Life 1:56.9 (2200mts) ($109,034) and looks to have inherited all her dams ability. Before tonights Oaks heat Fight For Glory was the early tote favourite for the Oaks final and after tonights comprehensive win, she is sure to now start a very short priced favourite. Harnesslink Media

All the harness racing trainers in New South Wales with smart three year olds  must have breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that Mark Purdon was sending Follow The Stars back to New Zealand for the Derbys there after the Victorian Derby. What they wouldn't have known was that the horse he was sending to the New South Wales Derby at Menangle in his place in Hug The Wind was little if any inferior to his star stable mate. Well after the first derby heat tonight at Menangle, no one will be in any doubt about how good he is after the son of Bettor's Delight sat in the death seat throughout before kicking clear late for a super impressive Australian debut win. Having his first start since the end of December, Hug The Wind did enough to win the heat without having to be seriously asked by co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen. You would expect Hug The Wind to derive some serious benefit from his first start for over seven weeks and he will strip a much fitter horse for the final. Aztec Bromac was just as clearly second for Robbie Morris and Kerry Ann Turner and looms as a legitimate place chance in the final but the other qualifiers in this heat look to be on mission impossible going by the margin between the first two and the rest tonight. Hug The Wind paced the 2400 metres in 2:53.4, a mile rate of 1:56.3 with closing sectionals of 55.7 and 27 Going on tonights run Hug The Wind looks the horse they have to beat on Sunday week. Harnesslink Media

The Hambletonian Classic at todays harness racing meeting at Ashburton looked a two horse war on paper and that is how it turned out. Prince Fearless from barrier one was made the favourite from the very smart northern visitor Speeding Spur while the draw  had made it very tough for last season's Harness Jewels winner Monbet who was out at barrier seven. Headed out of the gate, Prince Fearless kicked back through and held the lead and that was more or less game over from there. Trotting home from the 800 in 56.1 and the 400 metres in 27.5 made it impossible for any of the others to run the Majestic Son gelding down. At the line he still had 2 1/2 lengths to spare from a game Speeding Spur who had a lovely run in the one by one with Wanna Play providing a minor highlight of the race getting home strongly from well back. Prince Fearless trotted the mile in 1:56.6 which was just one tenth outside the New Zealand record held by Prime Power. Driver Natalie Rasmussen was suitably impressed. " He is such a lovely horse to drive and I thought he would be hard to beat.." "I thought he may get crossed but he managed to kick through and hold the lead and I knew he would very hard to beat from there." "He is still very green and immature which is why we have looked after him to date, " Natalie said. Prince Fearless warmed up today without an overcheck but raced with it in place. "I would love to race him without the overcheck as he does all his work without one but i'm only the fill in driver today keeping the seat warm for the boss," Natalie said with a big smile on her face. Prince Fearless has been sparingly raced to give him time to fill out into his large frame but he has a big season in front of him from now on. "All the big races are on his programme from here on in." "He is eligible for just about everything but he will keep getting better as he matures into his frame," Natalie said. The rest of the three year old trotters in New Zealand should be very worried if there is much improvement in Prince Fearless as Natalie suggests. Harnesslink Media  

Absent owners were a feature of All Stars night out at Addington but their horses didn't mind-and Natalie certainly coped well. Diane Cournane, breeder and part-owner of Fight For Glory was on her last day of business  in the deep south and couldn't  really be away from that. Ann Gibbs has had a leg injury which put her out of contention in the same race. Phil and Glenys Kennard along with Neil Pilcher are also co-owners of Follow The Stars and headed off early to Melbourne leaving Phil Creighton to carry the flag. And Willow and King Denny,  are raced by Australians Jean Feiss and Merv and Meg Butterworth respectively who will also be tending to races and sales on the home front this weekend. Border Control ended a period of frustration for his owners winning the Summer Cup after another quality drive from Natalie. He had had only one start since last May when wear and tear of a testing career took its toll. Because of his lack of racing perhaps, Natalie allowed him to settle off the pace early. "They went real quick for him anyway but I was happy to let him settle" Natalie said. "Actually the race worked out good for us." "I had to go when I did which meant being parked but they went some easy sectionals in the middle there and that suited us." "He will head to Auckland now, he is up with the best when he is right." "They ran a 26.5 quarter and he handled that well" The mile record holder (1.50.5) is just under $500,000 in earnings and has won virtually half of his 37 race starts. Fight For Glory was driven a treat by Natalie -and these days we expect nothing less !  She sent Fight for Glory early then let "filly to beat" Delightful Lana take over giving her the passing lane. Fight for Glory, which had raced so well in Auckland with little luck, snuck through easily and nailed the rich $85,000 first prize Willow  was a trifle unfortunate taking some time to work into the clear in the Mares Special and was beaten a neck.  "We had had a good run but she just had to go around a couple of horses  at the turn and the winner had a lovely trip in the trail so that was the difference" King Denny just showed sheer class winning the final event. Admittedly on what he had shown in the past he would be expected to beat a field like this but he had blotted his copybook in the south. Mark put that down to freshness and was proven right. Natalie drove him confidently sitting out the back until the 1100m then circling the field, going clear and never being under pressure. The results meant that at the end of January Natalie's sensational driving record at Addington means she has only been further back than fourth three times in 27 drives Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here  

The outstanding Bettors Delight gelding Arden Rooney will do his summer racing at least in Australia heading to Melbourne in the New Year. Instead of racing in Canterbury as previously planned, Arden Rooney will head north and race at Cambridge in the Futurity for four and five year olds on December 24. Arden Rooney was going to head south after Xmas for the cups circuit down south but will head to Cambridge instead. "Then its off to Melbourne and he will race over there  for some time" Natalie said this week. Australian-owned by Butterworth Racing Syndicate, Arden Rooney was not originally included in the Auckland-based team because of his moderate record on right -handed tracks. He has won nearly $250,000 on his way through the grades after being purchased from the Stiven-Grant Payne partnership as a youngster. He won a series of intermediate staying races coming through the grades including the Ashburton and Rangiora Cups and the Country Cup Final and then ran third to Adore Me and Terror To Love in the Easter Cup. In his leadup to the New Zealand Cup in November he won the Kaikoura Cup and has proved himself a distinguished stayer. Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stable - Check site here

One thing Australian harness racing trainers got tired of seeing last year was the sight of Follow The Stars disappearing up the track on his way to winning their 2 year old classics. Those trainers would have hoped that the brilliant son of Art Major would concentrate on age group features in New Zealand before heading back across the Tasman but the New Zealand handicapping system has meant that Australians will get to see plenty of Follow The Stars starting with the Victorian Derby. The New Zealand handicapping system rates every win in a race with a stake of $15,000 or more as a win that attracts a penalty, even as a 2 year old. Hence going into his 3 year old year in New Zealand, Follow The Stars is classed as a C8 for handicapping purposes which means he is graded just behind our best Grand Circuit horses. So not surprisingly the All Star team have decided that  it is too tough for a early 3 year old to race those older race hardened horses and are heading back over the Tasman with their star where under the Australian handicapping system, Follow The Stars is still an M0. Being an "Aussie" by birth, Follow The Stars was always going to spend a lot of time on that side of the Tasman as he is eligible for everything but the New Zealand handicapping system has fast tracked his appearance. The All Stars team have mapped out a programme for last years champion 2 year old and everything is on track at this stage. Follow The Stars is due to head to the North Island on December 13th and trial in the north before having his season debut run in the $20,000 Waikato Guineas at Cambridge on January 9th. From there it is on the plane to Melbourne to contest the Victorian Derby heats on January 31st. Following the Derby, Follow The Stars is expected to spend most if not all of his season in Australia which while not what a lot of Australian trainers would have been hoping for, will be greeted with a sigh of relief by a lot of trainers in New Zealand. With his great 2 year old record and being from the great American maternal family that he is from, Follow The Stars has stallion potential written all over him if he can reproduce at three what he achieved as a two year old. Harnesslink Media 

Mark and Dennis Dunford have had more success as owners than most at the All Stars Racing Stables. Alleluia, Hands Christian and Have Faith in Me are just the most recent winners that the brothers have raced out of the All Stars barn. But Dennis, an Auckland real estate executive recalled after the latter's great Sires Stakes victory that it wasn't always that way when they first got into harness racing. "I think I started racing horses about 1991 or somewhere around there." "We had a bit of success early on but no headliners and it seemed to get worse as time went on instead of better." "I decided I wanted to stay in the game and that if I was going to do so I had to change my approach" Out of the blue he rang Mark Purdon. "I didn't  know him and he didn't know me." "I said I wanted to to buy a horse and race it from his stable and Mark agreed." "He would select one for us at the sales for us to race."  That first one was Steve McQueen and it has gone from there" Steve McQueen was raced by the Dunfords in partnership with some friends and he was an immediate success. It was a great start for the Dunfords in their association with the All Stars barn. Steve McQueen only won three races before his sale to Australia but they were the key races. He won two Sales races including the $195,000 the Sales Open when driven by Blair Orange and also won the Cardigan Bay Stakes which was then then a Group Three race. One of his better runs at three was when he was beaten a nose in a Sires Stakes heat by none other than Auckland Reactor. Hands Christian has been a big winner for the Dunfords on their own account even if they have need the patience of Job to keep the racing faith with him after he had twice gone amiss with a tendon problem. One aspect of Have Faith In Me's triumph on Cup Day in the Sires Stakes which must have caused much celebration for the owners was how close they had come with Hands Christian beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the same race in 2011. Hands Christian wen on to win the Easter Cup but suffered a number of close defeats. Alleluia was at one stage the most brilliant three year old in the All Stars stable though he never quite lived up to that early promise. He is now racing in Australia. Mark Dennis was one of the most promising horses of his crop winning a Sires Stakes heat in 2.20.9 in one of only four starts here, winning two  of them. In the second he beat Smolda and All Star Man, Dennis makes no secret of  how his religious beliefs play a big role in his life and reveals that Have Faith in Me was intended to be called Have Faith In God. "Then I considered that the horses from that family generally have Me at the end of their name (Adore Me;Christen Me etc) so I changed it to Have Faith In Me. And you may have noticed I got to mention Deo Gratias (Thanks Be to God) in my speech! I believe all these things are part of life" Whatever the strategy or the beliefs it works. and that Deo Gratias might well be about the day Dennis Dunford decided to ring Mark. Courtesy All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

Robert Dunn sees a silver lining to Franco Nelson’s controversial Miracle Mile snub. Because now the New Zealand Cup runner-up can be the flagbearer for his North Island satellite stable which opens this week. Franco Nelson was passed over for a Miracle Mile invite at the expense of Terror To Love, who got the second Kiwi invite to next week’s A$750,000 race, even though Franco Nelson beat him twice last week. Dunn says while he would love to be going to Australian pacing’s richest sprint he isn’t losing much sleep over the snub. “Sure, we would love to have him there but we could also go over, draw outside horses like Beautide and have no chance,” admits Dunn. “That decision is made and we have Auckland to concentrate on with him now as well as the Hunter and Victoria Cups later in the summer.” Franco Nelson will have plenty of stable company when he comes north this weekend, with Dunn and son John, who train in what is basically an unofficial partnership, sending six horses north. They will be stabled at the new Lincoln Farms property in South Auckland after owner John Street moved his harness racing operation from West Auckland. “We are privelaged to get some room at John’s place because he does things well,” says Dunn. “And the time has come for us to have a more permanent base in Auckland. “I have a lot of Auckland-based owners who want to see their horses race up there as often as we can. “And it is getting harder to ignore the stakes at Alexandra Park and the fact they have smaller fields. “So Franco will lead our team up there with horses like No Doctor Needed and Say My Name among the six we are sending up.” The Dunns won’t be the first Canterbury trainers to set up a northern base and most fall over eventually as they struggle for horse numbers or staff who can replicate the main trainer’s success in their absence. The latest venture would seem to have a greater shot at success than most though as the horses will be in the care of Matt Bowden, who has had a wonderful strike rate looking after the stable’s horses on previous extended northern raids. “Matt will be the man up there but of course John and I will be making trips up, especially John who will drive them racenight a lot of the time. “The driving can be shared with Dexter if needs be too because he drives up there a lot of the summer. “We are really excited about it because it gives up more options with our horses. “We haven’t gone into it lightly and we want to make this a permanent thing.” Franco Nelson has come though his two Cup week placings well and is being set for a $30,000 race at Alexandra Park on December 5 before having races available to him almost every week until mid-January, especially as the Harness Jewels winner is eligible for Four and Five-Year-Old mixed racing. He is then likely to head to Victoria and on to the Inter Dominion in Sydney on March 1. The Dunns setting up shop in the north will be welcomed by Alexandra Park officials as they continue to struggle for numbers in their better pacing races. Trotting races have been of huge benefit to Alexandra Park field sizes, a huge factor in turnover figures, but pacing races stronger than mid-grade still struggle. The Dunns sit second equal on the trainer’s premiership with 20 wins for the season worth nearly $300,000 in stakes. The runaway leaders at the Purdon-Rasmussen stable, which has won 36 races from 106 starters and have already banked $994,239 for the season, with nearly 60 per cent of their starters finishing in the first three.   Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

Harness racing is one of those sports where luck plays a big part at times. Sometimes when things are going bad nothing positive happens where as when your luck is in, the world is your oyster. No one knows that better at the moment than well known owner Trevor Casey who has been riding a wave of success in the last few years. One of his many stars at the moment is the talented Majestic Son filly, Hot Pants. A $30,000 purchase at the Australasian Classic Yearling sale in Auckland in 2012, Trevor races Hot Pants in partnership with co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen and right from the start Hot Pants has shown promise. Although she didn't win as a 2 year old, Hot Pants ran second in the $82,000 Sales Trot to stablemate Dieu De L'Amour ($58,839) and fourth to another of Trevor's youngsters in Daenerys Targaryen ($106,923) in the 2 year old Trotters Championship. Hot Pants looked to have come back bigger and better at three when she won her maiden race by 10 lengths just prior to the New Zealand Trotting Oaks. But thats where things started to go wrong and Trevor didn't see it coming. "Mark was very confident of a big run in the Oaks and although she ran third, she was beaten 10 lengths and was very disappointing," Trevor told Harnesslink this week. A few days later Trevor got the call all owners dread. "Mark rang to say that Hot Pants had bled badly after the Oaks and the vet advice was that she was finished as a racehorse and should be retired,"  he said. Trevor put Hot Pants in the broodmare paddock but was toying with the idea of selling her. " I have plenty of well related and performed broodmares as it is and didn't fancy another one, he said. Trevor watched Hot Pants tearing around the broodmare paddock and wondered to himself if there was anything that might help Hot Pants get over her bleeding episode. It was at this point Trevor contacted well respected Victorian vet Alastair Maclean who is a good friend for advice. " Alastair sent me some powder to treat her with which over time seemed to pick her up and I became keen to try her again" he said. The next hurdle for Trevor was convincing Mark Purdon to try her again. "Mark was reluctant initially but came round after a couple of conversations," he said. So four months after being retired, Hot Pants returned to the All Stars training establishment at Rolleston to try to resurrect her racing career. No one involved really knew how it was going to turn out let alone Trevor. So there was some understandable nervousness in the camp when Hot Pants lined up for her first start back at the end of September at Addington. A nice fifth in the hands of part owner Natalie Rasmussen was as good as could be expected in the circumstances and it was decided to press on The first up start had qualified Hot Pants for the $24,505 final of the Alabar Super Series and with a peach of a drive from Mark Purdon she got home over Indiana Jones and Commander Paris. Next up was a junior drivers race but Trevor wasn't sure if it was the right move. "Mark was keen to put up stable driver Matt Anderson" "He had great confidence he would get the job done and as usual his judgment was spot on," he said. From there Trevor was keen to start on Cup Day but Mark had sorted out a 1950 metres mobile on Show Day and it was there Hot Pants lined up. Wide for 500 metres before finding the death seat, Hot Pant was left parked as Sunny Ruby set a scorching pace in front. Able to slot down onto the running line at the 700 metres mark when a horse broke, Mark angled her off the inner on the corner and burst through the middle late in the piece to claim a great win. Hot Pant's time of 2:25, a mile rate of 1:59.6 was a new New Zealand record for a mare 4 year old or older. Trevor was suitably impressed with Hot Pant's performance. "She has always had speed but now she has developed a staying game as well."  "To set a New Zealand record after doing so much work was a great effort,"he said Just as important was how she came through the race. "She has come through the race really well and all going well we are planning to head to Auckland now," Trevor said. It should be of little surprise that Hot Pants is going as well as she is when you look at her bloodlines. By boom trotting sire Majestic Son, Hot Pants is the first foal from the lightly raced but talented mare Dutch Annie (4 wins) ($35,719)  The second foal is last years talented 2 year old filly Yagunnakissmeornot ($26,180) who won four times in her debut season and finished fourth in the Harness Jewels. The grand-dam of Hot Pants is the brilliant racemare Miss Whiplash 1:58.6 ($151,765) who left last years 2 year old trotting filly of the year in Wanna Play 1:58.9 ($52,171)  who is also raced by Trevor. Wanna Play is also by Majestic Son making her a 3/4 sister to Hot Pants. One thing you can guarantee now is that when Hot Pant's racing career comes to an end for the second time, Trevor will manage to find a spot for her in his broodmare band. There is a fine line between success and failure in harness racing and the story of the successful return of Hot Pants to the track shows how fine that line can be at times. Harnesslink Media  

Gallant Hands Christian who survived one of the more unusual New Zealand Cup preparations only to falter during the big race, has been officially  retired and Mark and Natalie are confident he will find a good home. Hands Christian had 13 wins from just 34 starts winning over $330,000 the best being the Easter Cup for owners Mark and Dennis Dunford for whom Mark selected him as a yearling. He missed both his five year old and six year old seasons because of two separate tendon injuries but battled back this year running a close second to Adore Me at only his second start in two and a half years. A winner first up at two, Hands Christian had the first of his "near misses" when beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the Sires Stakes Final in 2010. Four November's later both were racing on Tuesday but Hands Christian had spent a lot of his time in boxes and paddocks in the interim. He was a close up third in the $250,000 Sales Pace, broke and retired from the Northern Derby, won a Derby heat in Australia and then had another heartbreak second to Gold Ace, beaten a nose,  in the Harness Jewels running 1.54.4. Third in that race was Terror To Love three years before the pair met in the Cup. After a win in the Geraldine Cup following a disappointing NZ Cup meeting, Hands Christian beat Easy On The Eye and Gold Ace in the Waikato Futurity. He then beat boomers Franco Emirate and Mah Sish in the Free For All leading into the Easter Cup and beat Terror To Love and Gold Ace in the Easter Cup. He then went to Australia and beat the Northern Derby winner Sushi Sushi in the Paleface Adios. Not long after that he went amiss in the Messenger and it was a long road back as we know. But his second placing in the Flying Stakes in his first start in 27 months was a reminder of his class. For her part Natalie was already a big fan and even after the disappointment of Tuesday she was full of admiration. "I think something happened fairly early on because he just didn't have the dash he had at Ashburton. "But he never turned it in." "He tried his heart out." "He is a very gallant horse and I was pleased to be able to drive him in the Cup." "It was a big ask but he had done his part to make it happen" It was also a massive training achievement just to get the brother ot Christen Me to the post. He never saw a beach or a swimming pool yet survived a searching preparation skilfully managed. Mark thinks Hands Christian will have no trouble finding a good home. "He would be ideally suited to something like a trail horse. "It wouldn't put the pressure on his leg a racing prep does and he would handle it fine." "He is a lovely horse with a great temperament too so he would enjoy that" Farewell Hands Christian -never a lucky horse, never a star but big on ability with a heart to match, Courtesy Of All Stars Racing - Check site here

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