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Dark Horse was a recent worthy winner of the prestigious harness racing Southland Horse of the Year Award. She had a stellar season, breaking two track and Southland records. In April she recorded 3-26.7 for the 2700 metre stand at Ascot Park. This was a new mares record for Southland and Ascot Park. The following month at Winton she ran 2-58.9 for the 2400 metre mobile. This time she set a new mares track, Southland and all-comers record for the province. Her time has only ever been bettered by Habibti Ivy which holds the New Zealand Record of 2-58.5. Dark Horse (Bacardi Lindy - Juliana) became the first trotting mare to win the Southland Horse of the Year Award in the past 30 years. Dark Horse and owners on the Addington track after winning last seasons Uncut Gems Trainer Nathan Williamson has had Dark Horse back in work for five weeks on a build up towards the New Zealand Cup meeting in November, with the major targets being the Dominion Handicap over 3200m and then hopefully the Rowe Cup later in the season.  Nathan may be forced to start Dark Horse of a long handicap in Southland before heading north to Canterbury, as the mare is now a rating 100 and suitable races in the South will be hard to get off the ground early in the season. Southland is only two weeks away from their first meeting of the season at Gore on the 27th August. Stablemate Poppymalda will also head towards the Dominion and other feature races at Addington in November. Also headed north will be nine race winner Tas Man Bromac. Tas Man Bromac (American Ideal - Tasmcmanian) is currently in work and will follow a similar path of Dark Horse, possibly having one run in the South before racing in Canterbury in the coming months.   Harnesslink Media  

Bettor Ops, Dark Horse and Seaswift Joy have been short-listed for the title of Southland Horse-of-the-Year for the 2016-17 season. The 30th anniversary harness awards dinner will be held on Sunday in Invercargill. With a win in the $40,000 Uncut Gems Classic and third at the Harness Jewels, the Nathan Williamson-trained trotter Dark Horse is favourite for the award, winning six times last season. Southern Country Cups final winner Bettor Ops is trained by Kirk Larsen, while the Canterbury-owned Seaswift Joy had 11 of her 17 starts from the Wyndham stable of Gordon and Colin Lee, winning six. On Wairio Mile day she paced 1:52 when second to Delightful Memphis and was third in the Group Two Southland Oaks.   NZ Harness News

Reducing the maximum field size from 14 to 12 will be among items discussed at a meeting of the clubs attached to the Southern Harness Racing body, on Thursday next week. Southern Harness General Manager Jason Broad says TAB figures indicate 12 is the optimum field size and has the potential to provide not only a better betting contest but also a better spectacle. “It would also take the winner's share of the stake from 55 percent to 59 percent,” he added. Broad eases the fear dropping each field by two will reduce opportunities. “Since the rating system was introduced we've been running more races than ever,” he said. He puts this down to the good work of the programming committee of which he, along with Clark Barron, Geoff Knight, Murray Swain and Nathan Williamson, are members. “It's taken programming away from the Clubs and we've been able to put races on more consistently. Our discussions have only been positive and feedback good.” Field size will be but one of a number of items discussed next week at the meeting of Club Presidents to confirm plans for the new season. There may also be some review of the current season but a full picture of financial performance is still some way off. It will certainly be available for the AGM in November, at which the Board for the new season will be elected. The three board members each have a one year term with the current appointees being Murray Little (Invercargill HRC), plus John Earl and Kevin McNaught (other eight clubs). Nominations have not yet been called. Even without the financials, Broad said the season has felt more positive. Stakes were up and all runners received a share, and they will be up about another 10 percent this season as the result of the extra Racing Board funds. “Also, the HRNZ bonus of $1500 on every maiden race will go to the winner.” Broad pointed out that the Southern Harness Board provides bulk stakes funding for each meeting, the Programme Committee allocates a sum to each race, and Clubs can add to it. The only races run for less than $8000 will be the Claimers contests, at $6000 because of their penalty free status. Most races other than for non-winners would be tiered from $8000 to $12,000, depending on a number of factors, with Cup races starting at $14,000. The number of meetings in the catchment area for the new season is up from 38 to 40 with Ascot Park to host 18: Invercargill Club-14, Northern Southland-three and Riverton-one. There will be nine at the Central Southland Raceway: Winton-seven, Wairio-two; five each at the Young Quinn Raceway (Wyndham) and Gore Racecourse (Gore), and one each at Cromwell (Wyndham Club), Omakau (Central Otago) and Roxburgh. Mac Henry

Stu Campbell, who gave away training standardbreds two years ago, was back as a winning owner at Forbury Park on Saturday with Pres The Belle. The three-year-old filly is fittingly a trotter, as Campbell had good success with trotters among them Fleur’s Invasion (12 wins), Daisy Belle (eight) and Elayjay (nine) when based at Ocean View. He won 149 races as a trainer but moved onto other business interests in 2014. Pres The Belle, who was having her third start, is by The Pres from Daisy Belle raced by Campbell in partnership with Des Minehan and Stuart Heal, both of Cromwell and Dexter Nind, of Waitane (Southland) on lease from Ashburton breeders Keith and Bevan Grice. She is trained at Mosgiel by Darryn Simpson. The same owners were involved with Waitoto Express, the last winner trained by Campbell at Forbury Park in May, 2014. Campbell had his first win with the pacer Sir Tom at Forbury Park in January, 1983. Daisy Belle (by Sundon) had her first win at Forbury Park in 2004. Pres The Belle is her third foal and first to race. Two of her foals, a Bacardi Lindy colt (2011) and a colt foaled in 2014 by The Pres, have died of colic. Ken Dempster, who retired after 35 years as judge and earlier five years as assistant judge for the Forbury Park Trotting Club, took a set of reins for a lap of the track in a dual sulky with a pacer, co-driven by Nathan Williamson. Dempster gave a salute as he passed the winning post. Dempster took on additional duties with on-course announcements on Saturday after Dave McDonald, the scheduled commentator for the meeting was sidelined. McDonald was unwell when he arrived at the track. He was taken by ambulance to Dunedin Hospital for observation. He was discharged later in the day and drove back to his home in Invercargill. Commentaries were done from Trackside television, first by George Simon and later Matthew Cross in the Christchurch studio. Tayler Strong  

Jen Jaccka and driver Nathan Williamson are a combination to respect in race 6 at Oamaru on Sunday. Williamson has driven Jen Jaccka in her five wins, the most recent at Oamaru on May 21. She has had a second in three subsequent starts when Williamson was committed to other horses. Williamson trained and drove Dark Horse to win the $40,000 Uncut Gems at Addington on Friday night and won with Toby O’Gara at Forbury Park the previous night. Jen Jaccka prevailed by a nose over Sundons Flyer in her last win. Sundons Flyer is again among her rivals. Sundons Flyer maintained her consistent form when second to Playboy’s Brother at Forbury Park on Thursday night. Playboy’s Brother is also in the field but he has yet to reproduce winning form in 12 starts at Oamaru, where he is trained by owner Colin McKay. Red Hot Poker ran a big race for third at Oamaru two starts back and he has won on the track. Donegal Bettorgretch, the Harness Jewels winner in Cambridge as a 3-year-old last year, has the class to figure in the finish when starting afresh. Wilma’s Mate, Temporale and Marcoola were among  the beaten division in her Harness Jewels win. Her stablemate Major Rocket should appreciate the drop in class in race 9. The 3-year-old filly who has been racing against Spanish Armada, has won twice at Addington this season. David Heffernan, the president of the Oamaru Harness Racing Club, has Fern Lea in contention for race 5. Fern Lea, trained at Invercargill by Wayne Adams, was a winner there two starts back. Lady Fern, the dam of Fern Lea won for Heffernan at Oamaru. Graeme Anderson has scratched Hopes and Dreams anmd Sovereign Banner from race eight. “Hopes And Dreams had a hard race at Addington on Friday night. Sovereign Banner has swelling in a leg and he is off his feed,” said Anderson. Ultimate Desire is the likely favourite despite it being her first standing start. She ran third to Piccadilly Princess and Queen Bee Bardon in the HJ and has won over a mile in 1.52.6 at Ashburton this season. Tayler Strong

Dark Horse has found almost the perfect race to end her breakout season. Because while the $40,000 Uncut Gems Trot at Addington tonight is ideal as of now, in a totally perfect scenario Dark Horse wouldn’t be eligible for it. The new series is for horses four-year-old and over who are Sires’ Stakes eligible but have yet to win a race worth more than $50,000 or run in the top two (trot) or top three (pacing race) at the Jewels. Dark Horse sneaks into that criteria because she was third, after being heavily backed, in the four-year-old trot at the Jewels two weeks ago. So while trainer Nathan Williamson would rather have won then and not been eligible for tonight’s 2600m standing start, he loves the conditions of the race now it is back on his radar. “Since she didn’t win at the Jewels, or run second, this race couldn’t be more perfect,” says the Southland trainer. “It is back to a standing start, not a huge field and nowhere as strong as the Jewels but still worth big money. “And I really wanted to give her a start at Addington before she went for a spell because she will probably race there quite a bit next season. “So maybe it all works out well.” While Dark Horse was anything but disgraced at the Jewels on a day when horses coming from off the marker pegs struggled, Williamson is adamant the best wasn’t seen of the speed freak. “It was her first big trip away and she didn’t really settle or eat that well. “So I left her at Dad’s stables (Oamaru) and he said she is far more relaxed now than she was two weeks ago so I am sure she will be better this time around.” While she faces a 20m handicap tonight, Williamson was confident enough to advise Dark Horse’s owners to pay a $2000 late entry fee to get into the race. Northern trotter Lemond, who also came from off the speed for fourth to Dark Horse’s third at the Jewels, is an obvious class danger tonight even though his improvement curve seems to have momentarily flattened out. Tonight’s Uncut Gem for the male pacers looks ideal for Cash N Flow, who has had no luck lately after galloping from a stand and then drawing poor in the Jewels. The mares Uncut Gem looks the most even of the three new races but if northern mare Rocknroll Princess can race up to her national record win two starts ago she has to be hard to beat. Michael Guerin

Especial lived up to her name at Ascot Park on Saturday when with the perfect trip she got the perfect result in the 1700 metre Join The Tri Code Syndicate Fillies & Mares Mobile. One of seven fillies in the 12-horse lineup, the daughter of Christian Cullen was parked briefly before getting the one-one after 300 metres. A lap later the trail horse dropped off, Especial immediately took her spot and when the passing lane arrived, shot clear on debut like a real professional. According to winning driver Matt Anderson it was effortless but not quite as polished as it seemed. “She is still green and when she hit the front all but pulled up,” he said. Bred and raced by Kenny and Jo Baynes, Especial is out of Especial Franco, member of a family Kenny Baynes was keen to have a bit of. He bought Especial's half brother Extra Special Iam, was under-bidder on another half brother Equalizer and tried over the phone to buy yet another, Expressionist. Soon after, Especial Franco was advertised in the Harness Weekly and the Baynes bought her. Envious, five wins and also a winner on debut at Invercargill, was the mare's first foal for them and Especial the next. She is trained at Gore by Tony Stratford who has had to be patient. “She's had a few niggly issues, just wee things like mud fever that set you back, the time's probably helped her though,” he said, “she's only had one workout and one trial, this was her third run. She's beautiful to sit behind, the Christian Cullen gait and she's got gas, a pretty nice filly, could be an open class mare in 18 months.” Nathan Williamson was the only driver to strike twice, winning two of the three trotting races. First up was a mare he trains himself, Splash Cola in the McKnight & Brown Mobile Trot and she did it style, clearing out by eight lengths to score her first win since January 2015. It was the fourth win for the mare having just her fourth start since being away from racing for more than two years. “She's had numerous injuries, was too fresh in her first two comeback races then was knocked and broke on Monday,” Williamson said, “she's still improving, I'll keep her going now.” Splash Cola completed the 2200 metres from behind the mobile in 2:46.8, The Williamson trained and driven Dwindle Mist set the track record of 2:45.2 in December 2014.  Sundons Wish, trained by Ian Jamieson, backed up from his win on Monday to take the Thanks To Our Volunteers Handicap. Williamson replaced Dexter Dunn in the sulky on Saturday. Matt Purvis, the former Canterbury junior driver who joined the Williamson enterprise at the beginning of the season, broke through for his first win in Southland when guiding Dancing In The Dark to victory in the Pinelea Farm Fillies & Mares Mobile Pace. Trained by Robert Dunn,the mare is co-owned by Matt's father, John Purvis and has been staying with Williamson. She is a half sister to Born To Run, a two year old trained by Williamson and driven by Purvis for a second and a fourth in his only two starts. Purvis said the juvenile is spelling at the moment and will be back as a three year old, and he himself is also staying on. “I'm flatting in a house at Tisbury with Craig Ferguson and Sheree Tomlinson, that made it an easy transition,” Purvis said, “I've enjoyed my time in the south, plenty of opportunities, a lot to learn from Nathan, a pleasure to work with such good horses.” Purvis has now won three times on Dancing In The Dark and advanced his career tally to 34.  “It was good to get a win in the south and one for Dad,” he concluded.   Mac Henry

Any punters who've seen Splash Cola in her prime are unlikely to have questioned her ability. But a host of minor setbacks have prevented the talented harness racing mare from proving her worth on the racetrack. In only her fourteenth start over three seasons of racing the six year old trotting mare proved at Ascot Park today she hasn't finished winning yet.   "She got a nice run early being one off the fence. We then moved to the lead and she was just too good. I thought if she trotted today she'd be hard to beat. She's still a day to day proposition so we've got to keep going," said trainer driver Nathan Williamson after the run. She won by eight lengths and her time of 2-46.2 for the 2200 metre mobile on a wet 7 degree day was outstanding. The track record for mares of 2-45.2 is held by another Williamson runner in Dwindle Mist. "She's still got a wee way to go fitness wise. She trotted lovely last week and got away from the stand but made a short bobble for about 20 to 30 metres. I was rapt with the way she was trotting. Then Gordie (Gordon Lee on Moment Of Sun) took half the field out with 900 metres to go. A few of them settled down but once she (Splash Cola) galloped that was it. She's quite a good trotter when she does it right."  Today's win was her first since January 2014. By Sundon out of the Chiola Cola mare Delcola she's owned by Ian Hunter. Her half-sister Delestic by Majestic Son also looks promising. She's won twice from just seven starts. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

Talented trotter Sundons Wish won his second race on end and fourth in his first season of harness racing when he lead, trailed then sped up the passing lane to beat favourite Alderbeck by a length and a quarter. The five year old Sundon gelding is owned by breeder Neville Cleaver and trainer Ian Jamieson. Although he's been in Jamieson's stable most of his career he was transferred to Branxholme trainer Nathan Williamson earlier this season - the stable from whence he won his first two races.  "Nathan's different method of training him worked. We've just carried on the same way. We sent him down to Nathan to see what he could find out and it's been absolutely useful. If it wasn't for Nathan he wouldn't be here. He's just kept him bowling along every day. He never jogs and just keeps him on the go," said Jamieson. Sundons Wish and Nathan Williamson beating brother Brad driving Alderbeck (12)  Sundons Wish is out of Armbro Invasion mare Yule Ana which is out of Little Miss Watch. Little Miss Watch is the dam of a host of good winners including Sun Watch (7), Flying Hardwick (12), Aleana (6), Musgrove (16), Carnley (3) and Sunrise Delight (3). Cleaver said some thought is being given to taking the gelding to Addington next Friday for the $40,000 Uncut Gems Trotters Classic where he would start off the front in the 2600 metre handicap race.     Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

While Nathan Williamson was readying Dark Horse to run 1:56.1 in the four year old Ruby and earn the biggest stake of her short career when third, Brett Gray was at Forbury Park winning with Duchess Grace and Pay Me Jimmy. Gray's two wins took him to 24 for the season, increasing his lead over Williamson to seven. Southland's two leading trainers have form runners across the card at Invercargill on Monday so the prospect of their tallies increasing is high. They initially had 12 runners each but the scratching of Pay Me Jimmy in the opening event, a pace for non-winners, leaves Gray with 11. Williamson's rep Born To Run is the likely favourite after the two year old's impressive debut second last week. Williamson has three in the trot for non-winners, second of the day, and all rate very highly in this field. Sheezamonarchy recently changed hands, is a newcomer to the stable, didn't flatter in a trial on Wednesday but has been in form. Ash and Svelt have both showed promise in their starts with Williamson staying on Ash. Gray's first hopes come in the fourth of the day. He has two runners, Williamson three, and the five have most of the form in the race. Williamson's She's Allthe Craze went close at Oamaru and ran home well without being put under pressure to win at the trials on Wednesday. She looks the one. Race six is the day's third trot and they have a horse each. Williamson's is the talented Splash Cola who is still on the way back. Gray's rep is the well-related Jen Jaccka whose form is impeccable. So is that of the opposition but from 25 metres she gets the nod. Denham Maguire was a triaI winner in 2:48.7 on Wednesday and debuts for Williamson in race seven. Gray has two in with Ideal Conquest the best of them. The filly hasn't drawn well but was sound last time. It would pay to keep both Denham Maguire and Ideal Conquest safe. A last start winner from two, Machjagger runs in the eighth for Gray but hasn't got the same attractive draw. McKenzie Mara goes for Williamson. Not in the hunt at Oamaru, she led all the way to win a trial last Wednesday in 2:49.0 but might find others too sharp. Gray has Young Conqueror and Mighty Flying Deal starting off the front in the ninth. The classy Tas Man Bromac goes from 30 metres for Williamson and was good at Winton when resuming. He ran home well to all-but win a trial last Wednesday and rates highly in the small field but can expect plenty of opposition from Sovereign Banner who goes from the same mark. Son Of Brahma runs for Gray in the second last. Despite his draw the four year old is a chance but won't find it easy. Stablemates The High Achiever and El Capitan go from four and six in the last and also are not without a show although some of their more highly-rated opponents make more appeal. Gangnam Style goes from one of the second line for Williamson. He led for much of the way at Forbury Park and held for third but will find this tougher. Best winning chances for Williamson- Born To Run, Svelt, She's Allthe Craze  Best winning chance for Gray - Jen Jaccka Mac Henry

Keith and Bevan Grice mark 70 years of breeding standardbreds with Dark Horse and Red Hot Poker in the $150,000 Ruby for 4-year-old trotters at the Harness Jewels on their home track at Ashburton on Saturday. The brothers, aged 91 (Keith) and 86 (Bevan) lease out their horses with Dark Horse trained by Nathan Williamson at Ryal Bush (Southland) for the Griffins syndicate and Red Hot Poker owned and trained at Claremont (South Canterbury) by Graeme Telfer, who races the gelding with his wife, Caryl. Dark Horse and Red Hot Poker were reared on the farms of Keith and Bevan. Keith has lived on the same property all his life. Both trotters are seventh generation descendants from the mare Agent, who launched the brothers into breeding horses in 1947. “Agent was given to us by our cousin (Len Grice)." recalled Keith. “We were keen on her as she was a sister to Java, a good trotter. I can still remember Java winning his first start at Ashburton (December 26, 1946)” Agent (Nelson Derby- Mavis Wood) did not begin racing until she was seven in 1940 and won two races as a pacer at a Manawatu meeting at that age when owned and trained at Tinwald (on the outskirts of Ashburton) by Ben Grice, an uncle of the brothers. Ben Grice had Haughty racing at the same time and she won the NZ Cup in 1942 and 43. Agent finished racing after one start as an 8yr-old.  She was 15 when she had her first recorded foal in the Stud Book. She left two foals, a colt, Sayonara (by Pacing Power) and a filly by Desmond’s Pride, named Shiann. Sayonara won a race for pacers at the Rangiora – Cheviot Trotting Club meeting at Rangiora in 1952 in the ownership of the Grice brothers and trained by Keith. Shiann won five as a trotter in Southland when leased to Wyndham trainer Stan Kirby, the last from an 84yd (77m) handicap over two miles at Gore She returned to the brothers for breeding and she is the ancestress of Dark Horse, Red Hot Poker and other good trotting winners. Dark Horse is by Bacardi Lindy out of Juliana, a sister to Jasmyne, the dam of Red Hot Poker (by The Pres). Juliana and Jasmyne are sisters to Dependable, Ima Gold Digger, Jo Anne and Shirley Temple, all progeny of Sundon and Janetta’s Pride. Ima Gold Digger won the 2009 New Zealand and Northern Trotting Derbies, Sires’ Stakes Championship and 2010 NZ Trotting FFA for the Georgeson family before he was sold to the United States. He ran third to Pocaro and Dream Machine in the 2009 Harness Jewels. The Georgesons also raced Dependable and Jo Anne. Dependable won the NZ Trotting Stakes and Rosso Antico Stakes in Auckland at three and the 2002 Canterbury Park Cup. Jo Ann was the first 2yr-old trotter to better 2.00 for a mile in the southern hemisphere when she recorded 1.58.5 in a non-totalisator race at Ashburton in 2001. She won a heat and final of the Tatlow Stakes at Moonee Valley at that age. Shirley Temple won the 2007 NZ Trotting Derby. Ima Gold Digger won 15 races in NZ and 24 in North America where he took a record of 1.54.4. Dependable won 14 in NZ and six in the US. Asked the best horse he has bred  Keith replied: “Palestine (Scottish Hanover – Coo Doo) is probably the best. He won 18. Barbara Del, Cyclone Lad and Derby are other good ones. I will know more after Saturday.” The Grice-bred horses have often risen to the occasion at Ashburton. Derby won the 1983 Ashburton Flying Stakes during nine successive wins when trained by Richard Brosnan at Kerrytown (South Canterbury); Ima Gold Digger won the 2010 Ashburton Trotters Mile from the stable of Michelle Wallis and Cyclone Lad had the first of his nine wins at Ashburton trained and driven by Derek Jones. Keith (with his wife Betty) and Bevan are set to attend the meeting on Saturday. Tayler Strong

Brett Gray snuck out to a five win lead over Nathan Williamson in the race for the Southland trainers premiership, with the win of Machjagger at Ascot Park on Saturday. Williamson has gone without a win since the success of Jewels favourite Dark Horse at Winton a fortnight ago while Gray won twice that day and has added a couple since. He has moved to 22 wins for the season, just one less than his tally at the end of May last year while on 17, Williamson is nine behind his and they've had a similar number of starters. While Gray is pleased with the way he is travelling and intends to race at Forbury Park during the winter, maintaining his advantage over Williamson is not a biggie. “It would be nice to win but I'll just take it as it comes, I'm not ambitious like that,” he said. Gray said the most horses he has had racing at any time has been 18, the current number is 14, and it is likely to fluctuate around that for the balance of the season. With four wins, Jimmy Mack has been his biggest contributor but is among the recent departures. “The High Roller has just been sold, Jimmy Mack is going to Ross Olivieri in West Australia and G I Joe to Kerryn Manning in Melbourne,” he advised. Jimmy Mack, and Fight For Glory's half brother G I Joe, are among a number Gray has trained through the season for Butterworth Racing. G I Joe didn't win for Gray, starting just three times for a two thirds and a fourth, but along with Jimmy Mack's four wins, Gray's win with President Roydon at Cromwell has given him five for the Butterworths so far this term. Now with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, President Roydon is a chance in the three year old Ruby at the Jewels next weekend. So too is Mr Mojito and Manning, a winner at Winton in April last year for Gray who is currently down to two Butterworth horses in the team. Gray trained The High Roller for the Ludemann family of Tapanui and one of his three wins this season was on Wario Mile Day in 1:55.5. Last month, The High Achiever was another winner for the Ludemanns. Of his 12 individual winners, Machjagger, Jimmy Mack, The High Roller, Mighty Flying Deal, Young Conqueror and El Capitan have all been multiple contributors. Notably, Williamson was the driver in four of Grays wins. The job is usually given to Brent Barclay, who has won 14 times this season for Gray, including aboard Machjagger at Waikouaiti in February. But not on Saturday. Barclay had won last week on the Peter Hunter-trained Bold Ruler and stayed aboard so Tim Williams took the opportunity and made the most of it. In front soon after the start, the pair stayed there and after reeling off a last half in 57.4, scored by two and three quarter lengths. “He's had some feet issues and filling in his back legs so he's been down at the beach the past few weeks, I send a few there from time to time,” Gray said, “he's a real stayer and best in front, the good draw helped him today.” From the first crop of the Christian Cullen sire Justa Tiger, Machjagger was a winner on debut in November 2014 and was Justa Tiger's only New Zealand winner from then until the successes of Captain Mannering and Admiral's Flight in the past couple of months. The five year old is raced by Steve and Claire Sloan and their son Brad. Mac Henry

Giant five year old mare Machjagger is tough but needs a good draw to show her best ,according to Ryal Bush harness racing trainer Brett Gray. "She does go good when she gets a good draw and she probably hasn't had one since she won at Waikouaiti," he said after the Justa Tiger mare won her third race at Ascot Park today. Driver Tim Williams took the mare straight to the lead and she held on to beat My Georgie Boy by two and three quarter lengths. "She's just better on top. She's often hard to get there because she doesn't have a lot of gait speed."    Machjagger winning her third race at Ascot Park                              - Photo Bruce Stewart Gray was quick to give some of the credit for todays win to Oreti Beach trainer Paul 'Tank' Ellis.  "She's been out on the beach for the last couple of weeks with Tank wading in the water. She's had a bit of a big leg and Tank's done a great job. It's been good giving her an environment change to keep the wheels rolling. She's also had a few feet issues. A bit of beach therapy does wonders."  Machjagger is part owned by Stu Sloan of Tussock Creek who was on-course to see the mare win today. She's out of the Mach Three mare Mach N Elle which is also the dam of eight win gelding Darcee. The win was the twenty second for Gray who leads the Southland Trainers Premiership by five wins over last year's winner Nathan Williamson.  Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

The two day suspension of Nathan Williamson for a whip-rule violation at Oamaru on Sunday has provided his right hand man Matt Purvis with a pretty attractive book of drives at Invercargill on Saturday. Although domiciled in the south since the beginning of the season, none of the five wins recorded by junior driver Purvis this term have been achieved in Southland and only one has been for a trainer from within the province. He has seven drives on Saturday, all seven are for Southland trainers and five of them are for Williamson. Not surprisingly, Purvis rates Poppymalda in the Southland Farm Machinery Fire Of 2016 R53 to R90 trot, his best if the day. The six year old is unbeaten in two starts since returning from a break, which began in December 2015 following a tendon injury in her right (off) hind leg. Purvis has been part of the comeback. “I drive her every day,” he said. Third at the previous Ashburton Jewels, Poppymalda clearly has the quality to make it a hat-trick but off 45 metres over only 2200, it won't be easy in a useful 12-horse field.  “She usually pings the gate, I hope we can make use of that,” said Purvis who takes the reins of Williamson runners in all three of the day's trots. The consistent Denn Nee Nose Best takes her place in the Nothing Runs Likes A Deere up to R53 Trot. Used early from the eight-draw last week to lead then trail, the mare produced her usual honest finish for fourth. From the handy four-barrier this week she looks a top hope again. Svelt contests the Southland Farm Machinery & Tractor Hire South Trot for non-winners and has drawn the ace. The filly, raced by Williamson's wife Katie, had her first raceday experience last week and went away well from one on the second line but broke after about 250 metres when being eased off the back of the runner in front of her. It was later ruled Svelt should have started from seven off the front and she was declared a non-runner. “She's come a long way in a short time and has got ability,” said Purvis, “I won't punch her out, I'll look after her, if she holds together she can be in it.” First starter Born To Run contests the John Deere 9R Series Tractors Mobile Pace for non-winner males. The two year old is a half-brother to Dancing In the Dark, a winner for Purvis at Timaru in November. Both are co-owned by his father John. “He's still green but has got a motor, we've got a high opinion of him but eight's not an ideal draw.” Purvis drives Gangnam Style in the Southland Farm Machinery Home Of John Deere R58 to R68 Mobile Pace. Two starts back the four year old finished second at Forbury Park after leading early and trailling for the final 1300 metres.  Handy early last week, he was shuffled back and had too much to do in the straight. “He hasn't been getting the most economic runs but with the right trip he can be in it,” said Purvis. His first outside drive comes on Tangled Up In Blue for Brent McIntyre. The son of Panspacificflight goes from barrier two in the John Deere 8R Series Tractors up to R46 Mobile Pace. “His run last week was better than it looked and from a good draw we should get up on the speed, that's his go,” said Purvis whose other outside drive is Steve Baucke's Delight My Soul in the John Deere 6R & 6M Tractors R54 to R57 Mobile Pace. Her 13-draw continues the run of outside marbles that have dogged the four year old since her win three-starts back. “She had no luck from wide draws at Addington but has a good burst with just one run and should be in it,” Purvis remarked. Mac Henry

The trainer behind the most hyped horse of Harness Jewels day has labelled her odds ridiculous. Because while trainer-driver Nathan Williamson thinks he can win the four-year-old Ruby with the appropriately-named Dark Horse, he is adamant she doesn’t deserve to be the $2.40 favourite. Dark Horse is one of the more exciting trotters to come out of Southland in a decade, having won five of her eight starts this term, her three defeats coming when she galloped. Her last two wins have seen her clock serious 2700m and 2200m mobile times, including a last-start thrashing of NZ Trot Champs winner Eyre I Come at Winton. Williamson, the son of champion trainer of trotters Phil, knows he has something special in his care. “She is an excitement machine, the best horse I have trained by some way,” he said. “She has dazzling speed and I’d love to think she can win the Jewels. “But I can’t believe she is the $2.40 favourite, that is ridiculous. “She is up against a Rowe Cup winner (Temporale), Lemond almost won the Anzac Cup, Wilma’s Mate has won a Derby and a Breeders Crown and Marcoola has almost beaten Monbet. “My mare is on the up and maybe we can beat them but there is no way we deserve to be favourite. If she was $4 I could understand it, but I’d have her $8.” While the latter would make Williamson the most popular bookmaker in harness racing, the four-year-old trot market at the Jewels is one of the most confused. Marcoola is a proven open class star but raced miles below his best at Addington last Friday, Lemond and Temporale have the form on the board at the highest level, Wilma’s Mate’s racing style always leaves her vulnerable to bad luck and forgotten Jewels winner Missandei has re-emerged by beating all of that quartet at Addington last Friday. Friday’s draw will be crucial, with horses like Marcoola and Temporale hard to catch should they draw to lead, but Williamson says while Dark Horse has become a thrilling sit-sprinter, he is is willing to turn that racing style on its head at Ashburton on Saturday week. “Last start she drew inside Eyre I Come, who is a fast beginner, so it gave me a chance to trot her off the gate and see how she handled it. “She was very safe in an opening 400m in 28.1 seconds so I am sure she can come off the gate quicker. “That gives me some confidence that is we draw well I could lead on her and I heard Clint Ford (Marcoola) say last week his fella could trot a 1:55 mile, well I am sure my mare could too.” Michael Guerin

After impressively qualifying earlier this season Dali Bread cleared maiden ranks today (Saturday) in the Anka Pipe Fittings Mobile Pace at Ascot Park. Harness racing trainer Clark Barron said after the win that the gelding has had his share of bad luck.  "Apart from one run in which he hung badly the rest he’s had bad luck. He’s still a work in progress but he’s got ability. He was only broken in twelve months ago so he’s come a long way in a short time and he was gelded late as well. He’s got talent but he’s just weak and immature,” he said.  The three year old gelding by Dali Bread is owned by Aucklander Grant Dowdall. “He’s been sending horses down here for a while. He's had a few slow ones but we won a race last season with Something Special. I’ve never met him but I’ve talked to him on the phone for about four years.” Dali Bread qualified at Ascot Park in March this year winning a 2200 metre mobile heat by ten lengths in 2-45.7 and Barron has rated him from day one.  “He’s a good looking horse and a very good pacer so it’s just a matter of waiting on him to develop.” In an inch perfect drive by Nathan Williamson Dali Bread ended up four back on the inside running line. With 1800 metres to run Williamson was able to get the gelding off the running line and followed the three wide train forward. With 900 metres to run he was sitting parked outside leader Matai Valour. Dali Bread went down to the post to win easily by a length from Matai Valour.  Returning to the birdcage                                  - Photo Bruce Stewart  As a stallion Dali has left twenty one named foals in New Zealand. Eleven have qualified including winners El Barcelona (5), Gotta Go Dali Queen (4), Dali Bread (1), Jeremy Jones (1) and The Dali Express (1). Clark Barron doesn't do too much driving these days, preferring to concentrate on training a large team at his base at Rakauhauka. The stable is going through a rebuilding stage after horses like Rakarolla and I'm Full Of Excuses were sold to Australia.  “We’ve got ten to a dozen being jogged up for next season already.” One horse he's enthused about is Black Ops. He's by McArdle out of the twelve win mare Special Ops. Black Ops, which is a half brother to Bettor Ops, qualified at Gore in February and is raced on lease by The Setarip Syndicate.  “We’ve just had to wait on him but he qualified pretty nicely.” Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

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