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Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) Chairman, Gary Allen, today announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the HRNZ Board for the new season and as a result is stepping down from his role as Chairman of the Board. Gary’s decision not to put forward his nomination for the North Island seat he has held for the past 18 years is something he has given considerable thought to over the past season. “The Board at HRNZ has made significant progress on a number of industry issues including addressing grass roots funding, optimising the racing calendar and commencing a review of the handicapping system. As these initiatives are now well underway, I believe it is time for a change and the Board is well positioned to move forward in the future.” Originally the Chairman of the Wellington Trotting Club, Gary was nominated to the HRNZ Board in 1993. He sat as a North Island representative for two terms until taking a break in 1997. Gary returned to his position in 1998 and has remained a crucial part of the Board since, being appointed Chairman in 2012. Gary remains deeply involved in the harness racing industry as both a breeder and an owner. “I look forward to seeing the progress the Board and industry can make around the super club/regionalisation proposal and the long term benefits this can bring to harness racing.” “We continue to face many challenges within the industry, especially around increasing returns to owners, maximising wagering on our product and the new health and safety environment. I am confident however that I leave the Board in very capable hands and they will continue to represent our industry and make positive progress. I sincerely thank my fellow Board members and staff of HRNZ for their splendid support over the years.” Gary will step down from his position following the Annual Conference of Clubs and Kindred Bodies on 29, 30 July. Edward Rennell Chief Executive

A terrible tragedy in the 1939 New Zealand Trotting Cup might not have much to do with the 2016 New Zealand Amateur Driving Championships, but for double heat winner, John McDermott, the race has always meant everything to him. “It means even more now,” Canterbury’s McDermott said after winning both of the opening heats at Cambridge Raceway on Friday. The 66-year-old Canterbury horseman said his grandfather Eugene (McDermott) was the man that inspired him to be a driver. He said everything he now did in the sulky was a personal dedication to him. McDermott (Eugene) was driving Colonel Grattan in the 39 Cup and they were several lengths ahead of the field and looked to have the race parcelled up when McDermott had a heart attack and died. “It might have been 77 years ago but it’s a race that is stuck in time and one our family will never forget. He was just 54 and his passing and his horsemanship was the catalyst that led to my love of harness racing,” McDermott said. McDermott Senior was a better than average reinsman who won numerous big races including the 1934 New Zealand Cup from 12 yards behind the three-time New Zealand Cup winner, Indianapolis. His grandson hasn’t reached those dizzy heights but achieved his own personal career highlight in the sulky when winning the first two of the four New Zealand Amateur heats.  “It was a wonderful feeling. I don’t think I’ve had a bigger smile since my wedding day, and that was a very long time ago. “Things just went my way tonight. Sometimes nothing can go your way and other nights everything just pans out like you want it to. I couldn’t have asked for a better result tonight. A truly wonderful feeling,” McDermott said. McDermott, who is a long-time New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club board member, drove the Paul Springall trained Sheza Springfield to win $6,000 The Dexion heat for the C1 to C3 pacers (and claimers) by a neck from Shards Phoenix and Sue Blake. Sheryl Wigg and Our Southern Man were a neck back in third. McDermott settled the Attorney General mare in the one-one and then powered down the outside in the straight to notch up the 4-year-old’s second win in 25 starts. She was the $7.40 fourth favourite. That was McDermott’s fifth career win since obtaining his advanced amateur licence in 2009. Career win number six came less than an hour later when he drove the Andrew Stuart trained Shantahlia Knight to win the second heat by a length from Vibe and Richard Sissons. Chequeme Rosie and Wigg were three quarters of a length back in third. This time McDermott took the $15.30 sixth favourite to the lead after 500m. They then hung on to hold out the fast finishing favourite Vibe. “I didn’t know much about either horse but Robbie Close did tell me at the Rangiora Workouts on Wednesday that Shantahlia Knight was the sort of horse that liked to bowl along once in front. “I thought at the time, gee that’s not going to be easy from four on the second line, but I managed to get a run through early and then found myself in front turning for home the first time. Young Robbie was spot on with what he said,” McDermott said. McDermott’s last driving success prior to tonight’s double came via the Greg and Nina Hope trained Earthbound at Rangiora on April 17. He’s also trained 35 winners as a trainer. “It’s been a very special week really. I trained She’sa Tricky Bridge to win at a premier meeting at Addington last Saturday. That was a huge thrill, and now this has just capped it off. “I think I will retire from driving at Cambridge now. Two starts for two wins will do me just fine,” McDermott joked. Going into the final two heats at Rangiora on Sunday week, McDermott leads the Championship from Sheryl Wigg. It is the second time McDermott has competed in the New Zealand Amateur Driving Championship after finishing third in a heat, when unplaced overall last year. Points: John McDermott 26 Sheryl Wigg 20 Richard Sissons 18 Sue Blake 16 Jeff Darby 16 Gavin Cook 15 John Kriechbaumer 15 Tremain Thorby 11 Tim Vince 10 Gerry Cronin 9 Miranda Hallett 7 Alan Edge 7   Duane Ranger 

An offer he simply could not refuse is the reason Nathan Purdon has delayed his return home.  Purdon has been in Australia for 18 months for stints in Queensland, Victoria and WA, but was starting to pack his bags last month.  Then came a phone call from Tony Herlihy.  “I was all set to return home to work for Dad (Mark) when Tony asked if I would take Ohoka Punter to Queensland and look after him for the big winter races,” Purdon said.  “How can you say no to training a seriously good horse like him.  “I’d had a fair to bit to do with the horse when he was down in Melbourne and Ohoka was with Amanda Grieve (where Purdon was based).”  Purdon and Ohoka Punter headed north “about three weeks ago” and the top class pacer opened his Queensland campaign in fantastic style with an Albion Park win last Saturday night.  The six-year-old sat parked outside his main danger, Majestic Mach, and won in dominant style by 1.6m in a sizzling 1min52.4sec mile rate for 1660m.  “Gee I was impressed with him” Purdon said. “He was never going to lose.  “He’s not the sort of horse who wins by much, but he did that pretty easily and ran good time.  “He should improve too. It’s good to have the time for another lead-up race or two before the big ones.  “There’s another race for him a fortnight and then there is a $30,000 race to kick-start the Carnival up here.”  Purdon said his plan was take Ohoka Punter through the Queensland Carnival and then both will head home.  “Tony’s plan is to set Ohoka Punter for the Perth Inter Dominion if he comes through this carnival well,” Purdon said.  “So it looks like I’ll head home to work for Dad when my work is done up here.”  Purdon said he has been watching in awe from Australia as his father and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen have dominated on both sides of the ditch.  “It’s incredible and somehow the stable seems to keep getting stronger each year,” he said. By Adam Hamilton  

And then were two. Seven short days ago, five Australian runners were confirmed to contest the 2016 Harness Jewels at Cambridge Raceway but following a dire week for Harness Racing New Zealand's (HRNZ) marquee event of the season, that number has shrunk to two. Reina Danzante's​ withdrawal from the four-year-old Ruby over the weekend further compounds the misery following Illawong Byron (two-year-old Ruby) and Arms Of An Angel (four-year-old Diamond) both being withdrawn last week. Reina Danzante, trained by ex-pat Kiwi Nicole Molander​, broke soon after leaving the mobile gate in a race at Ballarat on Friday night and refused to settle. Following the disappointing showing, connections made the decision to stay home and skip the Jewels. Arms Of An Angel was taken out because of a suspected virus and connections of Illawong Byron chose to stay home when the trotter was placed on the unruly. HRNZ racing manager Darrin Williams said only having two Australian invites was frustrating but it was only bad luck that saw the other three withdraw. The only Australian invites to wear the green Jewels colours will be My Kiwi Mate, who is  a $12 chance in the four-year-old Emerald, and Heza Bromac, who is a $26 chance in the three-year-old Emerald. Nominations for the top 20 in each of the nine categories went up on the HRNZ website on Sunday evening and trainers have been sent acceptance notices. Final withdrawals close on Friday with fields, including barrier draws to be out on Friday afternoon. The top 13 stake earners in the seven divisions without an Australian invite will make the cut but only the top 12 qualify in the four and three year-old Emerald races to make way for the Australian invite. Better B Chevron's maiden win at Oamaru on Sunday is enough to lift the Ken Barron-trained runner into the top 12 for the two-year-old Diamond. Another two-year-old to win at Oamaru, James Dean, still sits just outside the main field for the two-year-old Emerald in 16th spot. Sunday's Oamaru meeting was the final opportunity to qualify for the Jewels. Destiny Jones, a race winner at Addington on Saturday, has forced her way into the top 12 of the four-year-old Ruby for Waterlea trainer Dean Hunter. The horse she beat, Great Things Happen, has been withdrawn. Last year's two-year-old Ruby winner Missandei​ has just managed to sneak into the three-year-old Ruby field in 13th position. Missandei blew her chances of a win at Forbury Park​ on Thursday night when she galloped away from the start as a $1.40 favourite. A win would have made her spot in the Jewels much more comfortable. Better B Chevron James Dean Mat Kermeen

Mark Purdon is warning punters Dream About Me is no certainty at the Harness Jewels. The winner of 14 races from just 15 starts has been crunched into $1.35 favouritism in the pre-barrier market for the three-year-old Diamond, following her almost unbelievable win in the Group I New Zealand Oaks on Saturday. Purdon, who co-trains the Bettor's Delight filly with Natalie Rasmussen, said the win was easily a career-best performance at Addington Raceway but believes the barrier draws will play a key role in the Group I Jewels on June 4. Dream About Me's form in the Oaks is leading to comparisons with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's 2014 New Zealand Trotting Cup winner Adore Me.  And if the winner of more than $750,000 in stakes does draw poorly, Purdon is rejecting speculation that she only has to line up to win. "I wouldn't say that over a mile at Cambridge. The draws will be crucial and the other two fillies (Golden Goddess and Piccadilly Princes) are very good to so you wouldn't want to have too much bad luck," he said. Purdon and Rasmussen along with Dream About Me's owners will not be drawn into a decision on heading across the Tasman for the Breeders Crown until the Jewels are out of the way. "We'll probably make final decisions after the Jewels. "She's had a great season and there are the mares' races for next year so it will come down to whether we go that way (Breeders Crown) or set her for those mares' races here nest season," Purdon said. Dream About Me settled second to last in Saturday's Oaks from her second line draw but with around 1500m to run Purdon was on the move around the field, three wide without cover. It took the pair more than half a lap to get to the breeze in driving rain and windy conditions and Purdon admitted after the race he was questioning whether the filly had enough left in the tank to finish off the 2600m trip. "I thought it would come down to a dour sort of stayers' race and the last furlong would be down to the survival of the toughest and thankfully it turned out she was the toughest." Purdon was helped by the tiring Amazon Lily giving him the opportunity to duck into the trail behind leader Golden Goddess before taking an inside run to win by half a length. "She's just exceptional," Purdon said of Dream About Me. Golden Goddess is a $3.40 chance for the Jewels with the third All Stars stablemate Piccadilly Princess ($6) the only other runner in single figures. The All Stars stable trained the trifecta in the Sires Stakes for two-year-old colts and geldings with More The Better again edging stablemate Pacing Major. More The Better is a $1.80 favourite for the two-year-old Emerald at the Harness Jewels with Pacing Major at $2.50. Titan Banner, a newcomer to the Purdon and Rasmussen stable, has moved into a $2.50 second favourite for the four-year-old Emerald following his upset win over Christen Me in the Winter Cup. Christen Me did start 20m behind Titan Banner, formerly trained by Graeme Anderson, and only went down by a neck. Field Marshal, who is recovering well following a bout of colic last Tuesday, remains Emerald favourite at $1.65.     Purdon and Rasmussen trained six of the 12 winners at Addington with Bettor Be Gold, The Manipulator and Heaven Rocks joining the three feature winners. Purdon drove five winners with Rasmussen picking up one. The All Stars stable then picked up a Group II placing at Menangle when High Gait finished second in the New South Wales Trotting Oaks on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Purdon's son Nathan picked up his first training win on Saturday night when Ohoka Punter, formerly trained by Tony Herlihy, won his the first start of his Queensland campaign. Mat Kermeen

Bring on Cambridge. And the Harness Jewels. That’s the thinking of Kyle ‘Jock’ Austin following the victory of his star three-year-old Buster Brady in the Sires’ Stakes Sophomore Classic. And there were plenty of people walking around a rather damp Addington Raceway this afternoon thinking along the same lines. The big pacer, who hadn’t been seen at the races since running 8th behind Lazarus in the New Zealand Derby, showed all his impressive qualities to hold of all challenges and win the second running of the $40,000 event. And Austin knows he’ll take a better horse to Cambridge in a few weeks for the wide open 3YO Emerald. “He will improve a lot with that run, I’m sure of it. “He’d had the trial to get ready for this, but a race under his belt will really bring him forward again.” That alone will have to bring the horse into contention for Jewels glory. Without Lazarus and Waikiki Beach the category is anyone’s for the taking. Rated an $8 chance to win the Group One event, Buster Brady showed his versatility today by going back at the start and looping the field with a lap to run for Dexter Dunn. “He’s still got a lot to learn, but there’s a heap of ability there,” Dunn said. “He just feels like a really good horse. Those others came up to him and he just kept giving in the run to the line. “There’s a big future ahead for him.” The win was massive for Austin and the biggest of his career. He only trains a small team of horses at any given time but is renowned for taking horses to the races who are ready to win. A son of Real Desire and Kacie Marie who Austin trained to win one race in 14 starts, Buster Brady has now won four of his 8 career starts. “At this stage he won’t be seen again until Jewels Day, he was actually supposed to be heading up in the next few days but they’ve cancelled the trip because of the weather so I’m not sure when we are going to get up there.” There was a slight amount of irony in the result with Buster Brady’s regular driver, Blair Orange going down by a small margin with his charge Swamp Major who led and then trailed the winner. Major Ben emerged late from the pack to finish in third position with stable mate GI Joe in fourth. Classie Brigade was beaten into fifth position after blowing out 100 metres from the post. He will derive plenty of benefit from the run looking ahead to Cambridge. Buster Brady Matt Markham

Greg Hope paid tribute to an often unheard of factor in the success of many of New Zealand’s best horses after the win of Enghien today. Kerry Estreich isn’t a name that many people would instantly recognise, but the Mid Canterbury horseman is an integral part of many stables around the Canterbury region. Estreich is the farrier for the Greg and Nina Hope stable, and also does the shoeing work for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen as well as a number of others and plenty of trainers speak highly of his talents. “Kerry does a fantastic job, and he’s constantly looking at ways to improve horses through shoeing. “The work he’s done with Enghien has been a massive part of the reason he’s been going so well, his gait wasn’t perfect but Kerry’s worked on him and got him trotting great at the moment. “He still reckons he can get more speed out of him too, but we won’t be changing the way he’s been shod at the moment.” The son of Love You announced himself as the best trotter in the land with his victory in the Lone Star Riccarton Sires’ Stakes 2YO Trot. He overcame a tricky inside of the second line barrier draw which left him spotting rival, and race favourite, Habibi Inta up to 15 lengths at the one mile, but Ricky May never panicked and cautiously moved forward to find parked heading into the back straight the last time. “He trotted a lot better once I got him out and rolling,” May said. “It’s pretty tough going out there with the wind so it was a good effort to get around them and still win like he did.” After drawing level with Habibi Inta at the 400 metre mark, Enghien cleared out at the top of the straight and waltzed his way to victory by three and a half lengths. “His staying ability is quite impressive,” Hope said. “He just loves to keep on rolling, Ricky summed him up perfectly.” In winning, the Hope and Richard Dellaca, who own the gelding, not only picked up the $29,000 winning prize but also claimed the right to wear the Harness Jewels colours at Cambridge on June 4 – giving the stable their second Jewels leader with Monbet also donning the canary yellow. Custodian, who will join the stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen after being sold, was the best of the beaten brigade in second while Heavyweight Hero continued his turnaround in form with a strong third. Habibi Inta faded late to finish in fourth position. Enghien Matt Markham

​If anyone is planning on getting rich off the quinella in the 2-year-old Harness Racing Emerald it is officially time to find a plan B. All things being equal the TAB could pay out on More The Better and Pacing Major filling the two top spots at the Harness Jewels now - the only question being whether the latter can turn the tables on Saturday's Group I winner. Mark Purdon​ had to work hard but was able to get More The Better to lift and just hold off the challenge of stablemate Pacing Major, in the hands of training partner Natalie Rasmussen, to win the Sires Stakes for two-year-old colts and geldings at Addington. More The Better, raced by Purdon, his father Roy Purdon and Sir David Levene, took his record to five wins from nine starts for more than $260,000 following his winning margin of a head. Rasmussen pushed Pacing Major up the passing lane and drew level but More The Better found another gear. "She was closing all the way up the straight and probably looked like she (Rasmussen) was going to win it with 100 (metres) to go but I felt like he (Pacing Major) probably just came to the end of his run," Purdon said. More The Better's time of 2:22.90 for the 1950m trip was more than notable given the rain and blustery conditions on an easy track that was downgraded to slushy immediately after the race. The Bettor's Delight colt was able to cross Pacing Major off the gate and lead for the duration of the trip. The pair surely have the quinella at the Harness Jewels in Cambridge on June 4 tied up between them. "There's not really a lot between them but More The Better is probably just a little but sharper and a little bit quicker out of the gate at this stage," Purdon said. The All Stars stable matched last week's effort of filling the trifecta in the Sales Series race. This week it was an impressive showing from King Solomon to run into third. Mongolian Storm's effort for fourth was encouraging but it is hard to see him troubling More The Better and Pacing Major at the Jewels. More The Better Meanwhile, Wilma's Mate showed just how much talent she has when winning the Listed Yearling Sales trotting final for the three-year-old's by two lengths in the hands of David Butt for trainer Paul Nairn. Wilma's Mate missed the start by two lengths but the filly's massive motor meant that was no problem and she looks the main danger to $1.40 favourite Marcoola in the three-year-old Ruby. Runner-up behind Wilma's Mate, He's Like The Wind will head to Oamaru on Sunday in a bid to qualify for the Jewels. The Gavin Smith-trained runner will most likely need to win to qualify. Smith confirmed He's Like The Wind's stablemate Great Things Happen will not head to the four-year-old Ruby and is likely to spell. Enghien​ made short work of his second-line draw to score an eye-catching three-and-a-half length win in the Group II Stakes Championship for two-year-trotters. His win means Greg and Nina Hope will have two runners in the yellow Jewels colours at Cambridge with Monbet​ a dominant favourite in the 4-year-old Ruby. Bookmakers were quick to move Enghien into 2-year-old Ruby favourite at $1.50 with Habibi Inta​ drifting back to $3.50 following his disappointing fourth. Wilma's Mate Mat Kermeen

When you have only tasted defeat once in 14 starts, it's hard to achieve new personal bests but somehow Dream About Me has found a way to raise the bar again. ​Mark Purdon​ was left in no doubt the star filly's win in the Group I New Zealand Oaks at a wet and windy Addington on Saturday was a career-best run. Win number 14 of her career came from a second-line draw and she had to go around the field three wide without cover which took more than half a lap. But despite doing much more work than any other filly in the race, Dream About Me found a way to win by half a length over stablemate Golden Goddess with a further two-and-a-quarter lengths back to Arden's Choice in third. The death of part-owner June Roberts last week made the filly's performance even more special for her connections.  Roberts was the wife of Dream About Me's breeder and co-owner Charlie Roberts. Their daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Paul Kenny are also in the ownership of the half sister to Christen Me. Even Purdon, who co-trains the Bettor's Delight filly with Natalie Rasmussen, was in awe of her performance. "It would have to be her best performance, she's won a lot of great races and gone great but to overcome the position she was in today and get up and win it ... she's a champion," he said. ​Dream About Me paced the 2600m in 3:11.60, a much better effort than it seems given the brutal run she had and the slushy nature of the track. Dream About Me will be a warm favourite for the three-year-old Diamond at the Harness Jewels but Purdon is not writing off stablemates Golden Goddess and Piccadilly Princess. He said the barrier draws will be crucial. Dream About Me Meanwhile, a brush of the magic All Stars polish has been enough for Titan Banner to hand Christen Me his first defeat since returning to the race track from his viral setback. The champion pacer was beaten by a short neck by the former Graeme Anderson-trained 4-year-old in the 69th running of the Winter Cup (3200m). In just his second run for the All Stars barn of Purdon​ and Rasmussen, Titan Banner notched win number 10 at just his 26th start. The time of 3:59.60 was exceptional in driving rain and blustery conditions. Christen Me did start 20m behind Titan Banner from his 30m handicap and his trainer Cran Dalgety will not be losing much sleep over the result. Impressed with the time, Dalgety said the two-mile test in difficult conditions will do his winner of more than $2.3 million in stakes the world of good before he heads across the Tasman for the Group I Len Smith Mile. "He's gone great and he's had a good blow-up over the back so we're on the right track. Mark's (Purdon) one was just a bit good for us on the day." Dalgety did not want to make excuses but there is no question the run of Christen Me was more than acceptable for his third run back and with the handicap factored in. Titan Banner's form will likely see him make a serious play for Field Marshal's favouritism in the four-year-old Emerald, especially following Field Marshal's minor bout of colic earlier in the week. Titan Banner was aided by an aggressive drive from Purdon who was quick to move when a mid-race move from Mighty Flying Mac left him in the trial and gave Christen Me the opportunity to move around the field to the lead. Titan Banner Heaven Rocks' win in the last race of the day gave Purdon his fifth driving win for the day and the sixth training win for he and Rasmussen. Heaven Rocks Mat Kermeen

Harness Racing punters keen to invest on the short odds on offer for Classie Brigade in the Sires’ Stakes Sophomore Classic should do so with caution. That’s the line of thinking from the exciting colt’s trainer, Nigel McGrath as he heads into a slight unknown with his star pacer today at Addington. Unsighted since his shock defeat in the Southern Supremacy at Invercargill, the New Zealand Derby runner up heads into today’s assignment on the fresh side as he looks to march his way towards next month’s Harness Jewels at Cambridge. And while McGrath is counting out a victory, he is hopeful more so than confident. “I’m thinking this is more of a freshener for him than anything else,” McGrath said. “We have to get ready for the Jewels somehow and while we could have gone for a trial, a race like this seems to suit quite well.” The road back to today from the Southern Supremacy hasn’t been an easy one. “He was a pretty tired horse, the Supremacy was probably a bridge too far after the NZ Derby, so we’ve had to take it easy with him.” With all that in mind, those who have taken the shorts shouldn’t be disappointed if Ricky May doesn’t light the speedy colt up during the middle stages of $40,000 feature.  “I’ll be leaving all that up to Ricky, but an ideal scenario is getting a nice trip into it and then unleashing on them late.” McGrath has a strong second hand in the race in Ears Burning, who although beaten last week by rival Major Ben, was far from disgraced. A winner of four of his six starts, McGrath is looking forward to the chance to drive the Grinfromeartoear colt a little quieter than he has been forced to so far in his career. “He shouldn’t have to do it tough this week which will be good, we can look to get a quiet run and I think he will surprise a few people with how well he goes.” The Weedons horseman will also have a crack at Group One Flory today when Luisanabelle Midfrew tackles The Breeders New Zealand Oaks. A bold fifth in last week’s Nevele R Fillies Final is a good pointer ahead of today, but a wide barrier draw hasn’t helped. “The draw would have been ok if Golden Goddess hadn’t drawn so well. “We could go forward, but we might have to use a bit of petrol to get there. She’s going great, but we just need that bit of luck against the three top fillies.” Matty Williamson will continue his association with the NZ Breeders Stakes winner. Matt Markham

With the big names falling out of contention for 4-year-old Diamond, Harness racing trainer ​Mark Jones believes Rocker Band is now a winning chance at the Harness Jewels - but there is a downside. The withdrawals of last year's three-year-old Diamond winner The Orange Agent (injured), Fight For Glory (retired), Start Dreaming (injured) and then Australian invite Arms Of An Angel (virus), there is no dominant favourite. Now the most open of the nine divisions, Jones knows there is probably eight or nine other trainers sharing his confidence.  Better B Amazed ($3.60), Expressive Victor ($4.20), Democrat Party ($4.60) and On The Town are the main pre-barrier draw hopes with Rocker Band at $9.50. Jones believes the draws with be crucial. "The second line wouldn't be too bad but we wouldn't want to draw wide as you need to be handy at Cambridge. "With her (Arms Of An Angel) coming out it's probably opened it up for eight or nine horses so it could be very even," Jones said. Sunday's Oamaru meeting is the last chance for potential Jewels runners to increase their season's stake money to qualify into the fields. The race has become much more of a priority to Jones and Rocker Band's owner Greg Brodie because of the defections of so many leading chances. Rocker Band, the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover and 2005 New Zealand Cup winner Mainland Banner, has been progressing nicely since her last-start 12th in the Group I Breeders Stakes on April 1, when she raced keenly for a good chunk of the 2600m trip. "Her record over a mile is pretty good and she's a speed horse," Jones said. Rocker Band's recent Rangiora Workout win Meanwhile, Tim Butt is a relieved man following duel Group I winner Field Marshal's recovery from a minor bout of colic on Tuesday. The Taylor Mile and Messenger winner was brilliant in his Auckland campaign and is a $1.55 favourite for the 4-year-old Emerald at the Jewels. Butt said you can never take anything for granted in the racing game and colic was an occupational hazard with horses but he was confident the minor setback was now behind the winner of eight of his last 10 races and 14 from 25 overall. "He'll just take it quietly for a couple of days but we kept the work into him after Auckland so that will help him," Butt said. Missing the Jewels would have been tough for Butt and owners Syd and Shona Brown, who bred the Art Major entire out of their outstanding race mare Foreal, because he missed much of his three-year-old season following a wind operation. Pre-barrier draw, Field Marshal looks the horse to beat but newcomer to the All Stars barn, Titan Banner, has been backed into $3.40.     "On form he looks like the best horse in the race but you still need a bit of luck in those big races." The All Stars stable looks to have both Group I features at Addington on Saturday in the bag with favourites in the New Zealand Oaks and 2-year-old Sires Stakes for colts and geldings. The All Stars barn of Mark Purdon​ and Natalie Rasmussen also looks likely to pick up a win across the Tasman to round out the day when High Gait, who will be driven by Darren Hancock, contests the Group II New South Wales Trotting Oaks. Christen Me should have enough class to win the Winter Cup (3200m) off 30m but front-markers New Years Jay and Titan Banner (off 10m) will make him work. Mat Kermeen

Ray Faithful will be entering uncharted Harness Racing territory when he unleashes his exciting free legger, The Big Boss, at Addington next Saturday (21 May). “Having a free legged pacer, for me its just unique,” said Faithful, who has won 12 races at Addington with seven different horses, including a group one, but they've all warn hopples. He said tried them on The Big Boss throughout his development but in the end decided he was better without them. That was never better illustrated than at Ascot Park on Diamonds Day when ran his rivals off their feet, shaving more than a second off Highview Tommy's Southland record for a 2700 metre mobile. The American Ideal gelding  stopped the clock at 3:18.2 and immediately after the race Faithful said he'd be set for a $20,000 C1 and C2 four year old and older stand on 21 May. About three weeks after the Invercargill race, Faithful had the Big Boss at the Winton Workouts and described his run as “pretty good”. Credited with running the 2400 metre trip from behind the mobile in 3:01.9, Faithful said The Big Boss was timed to go his last mile in 1:56, last half in 54.5, quarter in 26.5 and went pretty nice. The Big Boss is raced by Northern Southland enthusiasts Ken (Scotty) Scott, David (Noddy) Orr and and Orr's new wife Jane, previously Jane Pritchard. Orr said that when he was president of the Northern Southland Club, media personality Johnny Turner – also from Northern Southland - referred to Orr as the big boss. The name appealed to Scott who said “that sounds like a pretty good name for the horse”. Scott had previously had success with the likes of Pump Action and Hellboy, and with Pumped Up who was trained by Dave Jones of Rakaia for two of his wins. Through his ongoing association with Jones, Scott got to see The Big Boss as a foal when his breeder Ray Ancich was selling. “He wanted the foal, I bought into it, and he said if I pay the transport I can have the mare,” Orr said. “Jane got her share as a birthday present (on 28 March 2012).” Orr found out later that his second cousin, the late Ronnie West of Balfour, had bred Petronella, fourth dam of The Big Boss. Faithful said his ongoing involvement began when The Big Boss was weaned. He recalled him in a paddock at Orrs with three or four others and seeing him pace free legged and keeping up with his mates who were galloping. Orr recalls Faithful staying with him one stormy night when The Big Boss was three and noticing next morning he was on the wrong side of the fence. “There had been strikes of lightning, he had a big gash in his knee, we got the the vets but it couldn't be stitched,” said Orr, who along with Jane had to attend to the wound daily for the next two to three months until it closed up. “He got sour on us and didn't like us in the end. We were using manuka honey but he kept licking it off so we had to use another rub. You can still see a bit if a scar.” Faithful finally gave up on hopples when The Big Boss wouldn't stretch out. “He had a long hopple buy just wasn't comfortable, 67 inches was too tight,” Faithful revealed. The Big Boss finally made it to the workouts just before Christmas last year and had his first trial on 8 January at Winton. Sent out free legged, he galloped just before the mobile pulled away. “It cost him about 90 metres but he won so I knew he was good,” said Faithful, who resisted pressure to put hopples on for his next trial. Instead, he took the reins himself. The result was an all the way win. Like his Addington mission, The first start of The Big Boss was from a stand. He went away safely, Faithful hopes the same will apply next week but knows its not a given. His previous Addington wins have been Preiswert - 1993 & 1996, Imperiora – 1996: twice & 1997, Tartan Lady -1999 (group one New Zealand Standardbred Breeders Stakes), Feverish 1999, English Elegance - 2000: three times, Asdean - 2004, and Lord Forbes - 2008. Mac Henry

Pacing Major’s fading hopes for Harness Racing juvenile of the year could be about to get a much-needed boost. But anything short of a win in Saturday’s $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final at Addington could all but end his shot at freshman glory. Pacing Major, part owned by thoroughbred training great Jim Gibbs, started the season looking the sharpest of his age group but has played second fiddle or worse to stablemate More The Better in their last four clashes. That includes being runner-up in both the Young Guns Final at Alexandra Park and the Sales Series Pace at Addington last Saturday. Pacing Major came from off the speed last week but has the advantage of barrier three in this week’s 1950m group one, with his stablemate alongside him at barrier four at the daytime meeting. If Pacing Major can turn the tables on Saturday and then again at the Harness Jewels, he could still sneak the juvenile title. But if More The Better beats him on Saturday he will hold a 6-2 winning record over Pacing Major and the Jewels result may be irrelevant to the horse of the year voting. One of the pair is almost certain to head to Australia for the Breeders Crown in August but that doesn’t effect horse of the year voting as the awards are presented in early August before the Crown is held later that month. Even with his recent dominance, More The Better only slightly shades Pacing Major in Jewels betting, one at $2 the other $2.40. Golden Goddess has a clear advantage in the draws for Saturday’s NZ Oaks, having drawn perfectly on the front line while Dream About Me and Piccadilly Princess are on the second line. Habibti Inta gets a front line draw in the $60,000 Sires’ Stakes Trot while arch rival Enghien faces a huge task from the inside of the second line. And Christen Me gets one more New Zealand start for the season after only copping a 30m handicap in the Winter Cup, a dream result for the $2.4million earner. Michael Guerin

As the temperatures drop, Alexandra Park is determined to brighten up people’s lives by hosting mid-winter Christmas parties over four consecutive Friday harness racing nights on 24 June and 1, 8 and 15 July.  Launching a comprehensive marketing campaigning, Alexandra Park Sales & Marketing Manager, Joel Reichardt, says the mid-winter Christmas parties are already sparking considerable interest from friends, families and colleagues looking for a perfect excuse for a fun night out this winter. “Tongue in cheek we are promising people a better work Christmas party than they might have attended in the past. We’re saying reserve your spot, enjoy the hospitality, a beautifully themed room, plenty of warm festive treats, great harness racing action, and live entertainment afterwards,” he says. Alexandra Park has mid-winter Christmas party packages starting from just $65 per person, with parties set to be hosted in the Top of the Park, Tasman and Rutherford rooms. Mr Reichardt says the series is part of Alexandra Park’s strategy to drive its functions facilities harder than ever and attract new audiences to the Friday night trots. “The dining packages are exceptional and as well as our delicious all-you-can-eat carveries and buffets, the racing under lights is always spectacular. The likes of the Tasman Room is a prime viewing spot with floor to ceiling glass windows and plenty of atmosphere - perfect for those looking for a quality hospitality experience and a lot of fun. General admission for the public into Alexandra Park as well as parking remain free and race-books are also complimentary. For further information on its mid-winter Christmas packages visit www.alexandrapark.co.nz. For all bookings please contact Gabby Garton-Voice on (09) 631-1165 or email dining@alexandrapark.co.nz Other upcoming events at Alexandra Park include a Pink Ribbon breakfast to raise money for The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation on Friday, 20 May from 7.30am. Attendees will enjoy a scrumptious breakfast buffet with special guests from the Blues present and spot prizes to be won. Tickets are $20 per person. While on Friday, 26 August, Thai Night will be back at Alexandra Park. Enjoy an all-you-can-eat Thai Buffet, fully themed room, a drink on arrival and of course all the excitement of live racing action. The Thai Night package is only $55 per person. Mr Reichardt says as well as promoting more race night functions, Alexandra Park offers all sorts of packages for the likes of school balls, private functions, weddings, daily delegates and multi-day conferences. “Our team really prides itself on providing flexible solutions, tailoring menu and beverage packages, ensuring all audio-visual requirements are easily taken care of, as well as offering expert advice and great value for money,” he says. www.alexandrapark.co.nz Alexandra Park Sales & Marketing Manager, Joel Reichardt - (021) 786-034.

Following the abandonment of race 2 at Forbury Park last night, the Club, after discussion with HRNZ, has agreed that they will make a payment of $300 to the connections of all starters in the abandoned race as a contribution to costs incurred and also pay a losing driving fee of $86.25 to all the drivers involved. The unfortunate situation was outside the control of the club and HRNZ, however it was felt important these additional payments be made in good faith to mitigate participants costs incurred with his race. HRNZ MEDIA

Harness Racing amateur driver Sheryl Wigg has come a long way since nailing her first driving win at Cambridge Raceway 14 months ago. The 44-year-old Auckland horsewoman returns to the same track on Friday night to take on the country’s best in the New Zealand Amateur Driving Championships. Harness Racing Waikato will host two heats (races one and three) on Friday, while the Championships will be wrapped up with a further two heats at Ashburton Raceway on Sunday June 5. The Waimauku cat motelier, who is the partner of NZ Championship rival, Tim Vince, said she was experiencing her most successful season yet and was delighted to be competing in her first NZ Champs. “It’s a bit of an honour. I was rapt to qualify. It will be a great time, but anyone who knows me knows that I will be competing for one purpose – and that’s to win the New Zealand title. “Second will not be good enough,” Wigg said. Wigg will steer the Jay Abernethy-trained 12-year-old gelding, Our Southern Man (8) and the Wendy Ferguson trained 7-year-old mare, Chequeme Rosie (6). Both races are $6,000 events over the 2200m and 2700m mobiles respectively. “I’ve got two nice drives, but I think Our Southern Man in the first heat is my best chance,” Wigg said. Our Southern Man was a certainty beaten when breaking on this track when a win looked likely on May 5. Half of his 16 wins have been at Cambridge Raceway, including seven over the distance. “He has good gate speed and I will be looking to use his acceleration. Jay’s horses usually race near the front and I think I can get there from eight. “It all depends how the race pans out early but he’s a nice amateur horse. I was surprised by his mistake last time. I’ve never seen him do that before. I like his speed,” Wigg said. Meanwhile, Chequeme Rosie boats the quickest winning mile rate (2:01.3) in her race by some 1.3 seconds. She was a nice winner in lesser class at Manawatu last week, but is yet to record a win on the track or over the distance. “She has a slightly better draw and the Fergusons have her in good condition if her last start win is anything to go by. I am looking forward to driving the mare. I will be wanting as many points as I can get heading into Ashburton,” said Wigg. Wigg has driven three winners this season and five all-up. Her first win came behind the Vince trained With A Vengeance on March 15 last year. Then 10 months later, the former jockey (who rode two winners) and her sister Cheree created a world first when they became the first twins to quinella an amateur driving event. They created history on the Waipa Grass at Te Awamutu behind the Vince trained Celtic Warrior (Sheryl) and the Frank Phelan trained Speak Up (Cheree). Like Sheryl, Cheree won on her tote first drive that day. But Wigg knows if she’s going to win any New Zealand title then she’s going to have to get past current New Zealand champion and former World champion Gavin Cook. Cook has two nice drives – the best of them, the Graeme Rogerson trained On The Razzle, who is likely to start one of the favourites, despite drawing 11 (three on the second row) in the first heat. The 8-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight drops back in class, and loves the distance with nine of his 15 wins having come from behind the 2200m mobile. By Duane Ranger

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