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Rising harness racing star Spankem claimed another Gr1 victory tonight by winning the 2019 $90,000 Dawson Harford Ltd NZ Messenger Championship at Alexandra Park. Using the same tactics as she did in last weeks Taylor Mile success, driver Natalie Rasmussen blasted off the mobile gate to grab an early lead with the showy Bettor's Delight gelding.  It turned out to be a lead she would never relinquish. As he did last week Spankem ran along in front with no attackers and he simply had too much gas in the tank for his rivals, unleashing a sizzling last 800m in 54.3 seconds and winning by half a length at the line.  Stable mate Turn It Up got closest again running home well for second with Mach Shard battling on well from the trail for third. For Natalie Rasmussen it was her second straight win in the race, after winning with Eamon Maguire last year. "He got a nice soft lead again tonight and that first lap was pretty kind," she said after the race. "I was conscious not to spark him up, because he can get a bit keen sometimes, but he was nice and relaxed tonight so he was able to hold them off. The winners time was 3-17.6 for the 2700m mobile. Spankem winning the NZ Messenger The All Stars Stables had a good night in both Islands. As well as winning three out of the four Group One races on offer at Alexandra Park, they also picked up three races at Addington including a trifecta in the rich $161,000 PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales 2YO Open, with One Chance just pipping stablemate Smooth Deal by a nose with Flying Even Bettor running third. Ashlea Locaz also won during the night as did well bred maiden first starter Only Me.   Harnesslink Media

A dream week with barrier draws has gifted Spankem an unlikely shot at harness racing’s Horse of the Year title. Because he might now start favourite in Friday’s $100,000 Messenger at Alexandra Park and victory there would embellish his claims for a title which looks more open than usual. Spankem bolted away with last Friday’s Taylor Mile after being able to lead favoured stablemate Turn It Up and has the best draw (three) of the favourites again this Friday. While the Messenger is 2700m compared with last week’s Mile, Spankem still looks the likely leader and then controls his own destiny, whereas stablemates Chase Auckland (barrier four) and Turn It Up (five) will need some luck to get to the marker pegs and in front of Spankem. Last week’s declaration from trainer Mark Purdon that Spankem would lead the Taylor Mile and not hand up to Turn It Up saw the market flipped on its head and Purdon’s pre-race comments this week will again have a crucial impact. But there is more than just the first place prize up for grabs on Friday as Spankem is making a late, unlikely bid for the Horse of the Year title. Thefixer would have been the early favourite for that after he won the New Zealand Cup, always the most important race for voters, but while he has won a Ballarat Cup and Miracle Mile prelude since he has been beaten plenty of times. Turn It Up has the Auckland and Easter Cups next to his name so a win this Friday and in the Jewels in June 1 would put him in the HOTY box seat. But if he wins on Friday then Spankem’s credentials get a further boost. He has already won the Miracle Mile in 1:47.7, the prelude a week earlier, the Kaikoura Cup, two Inter Dominion heats and last Friday’s Taylor Mile. Add the Messenger this week and his claims become hard to deny. Just 30 minutes earlier the Trotter of the Year title looks certain to be decided in the $150,000 Rowe Cup which hosts the horses who have won all the previous group one trots held in New Zealand this season. Speeding Spur, who has drawn the second line on Friday, is the only trotter to have won two group ones this term and is joined by Marcoola (Dominion), Massive Metro (National Trot) and Sundees Son, who won last Friday’s Anzac Cup. Another group one victory for any of that quartet could seal them the trotter’s title, with Sundees Son the only one with a further group one opportunity this season in the four-year-old Jewels at Addington on June 1. Earlier in the night Sweet On Me will be red-hot to bounce back from her first defeat last Friday in the Sires’ Stakes Championship while the battle between Enhance Your Calm and Lotamuscle highlights the $100,000 Trotting Derby.   Michael Guerin

Iron horse Eamon Maguire has narrowly won tonight's Group One $100,000 NZ Messenger. Eamon Maguire showed blazing gate speed to lead early before handing up to Tony Herlihy driving Star Galleria. In the straight Eamon Maguire (Art Major-Kim Maguire) was always the horse to beat given the great run in transit he had received and he levelled up to Star Galleria and clawed his way to a half head victory.  Driver Natalie Rasmussen gave a lot of the credit for the win to former trainer Graeme Anderson. "We have only had the horse ten days," she said after the race, so a lot of the credit has to go to Graeme. "This horse is a pleasure to have in the barn, he's got perfect manners and he zipped off the gate and got that perfect trail tonight. "A few of them were getting pretty tired near the finish but my guy had that little advantage and held it," she said. Eamon Maguire paced the 2700m mobile in 3-15.7 with a final 800m in 56.2 and 400m in 27.9 seconds.  Star Galleria battled on gamely for second to give sire Art Major the quinella in the race and A G's White Socks ran home well for third.   Eamon Maguire winning the Group One Messenger Harnesslink Media

One of the greatest years of Trevor Casey's life is about to come to a slight halt at about 9.25pm at Alexandra Park tonight. That is when the gravy train, that is Lazarus, will pull into the station for the last time in 2016-2017. "It's all been a dream and a horse like 'Laz' is a one-in-a-lifetime dream. It would be a great way to end the season with a win in the Messenger. "The race means a lot to me because I part-owned Sky Major when he won it in 2015," Christchurch-based Casey said. Casey also co-owns stablemate, Waikiki Beach (2), who will start one outside Lazarus in the 50th running of the Group One $100,000 New Zealand Messenger Championship. The 2700m mobile, which is sponsored by Auckland law firm Dawson, Harford & Partners, has again attracted New Zealand’s best 4-year-old pacers. But the field of seven would have no doubt been larger had the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained $1.02 fixed odds favourite, Lazarus, headed to the spelling paddock last week, instead of Sunday. “What 4-year-old has ever achieved what he has this season? He’s an absolute champion and even though I’ll also be cheering on ‘Barney’ (Waikiki Beach) I don’t think any horse can get near ‘Laz’, let alone a 4-year-old. “I think he’s two lengths better than ‘Barney’ at this stage of their careers. I’m just going to be so proud to have them both race in my Lone Star colours again. I’d love to quinella the race like last week,” Casey said. Lazarus and Waikiki Beach finished one, two in the Group One Taylor Mile seven nights ago. Lazarus got the better of him by one-and-a-half lengths and paid a miserly dollar to win. That was Lazarus’s 26th career win from 31 starts. He's also placed in five others for $2.1 million in stakes. The son of Bettor’s Delight’s six Group One wins this season have included the coveted New Zealand Cup, the Victoria Cup, the Chariots Of Fire, the 4yo Aussie Bonanza, the New Zealand Free-For-All, and last week's Taylor Mile. This season alone Lazarus has won more than $1.1m in stakes. So was his placing in the Miracle Mile a blemish on almost the perfect season? “No, not really. He was a victim of circumstances if you reversed the run of the winner I reckon he would have won that race,” Casey said. The 56-year-old has been owning standardbreds since 1979 but has never had a season like the one just gone. “I’ve had many winners thanks largely to Lazarus and Waikiki Beach. I think they are the best two horses I have owned, separated by Sky Major. It is going to be a real thrill watching them go around on Friday,” said Casey. He said Lazarus would follow the same schedule as last year, starting with a race like the New Brighton Cup in September. “We didn’t consider the Jewels because he won that at two and the New Zealand Cup is now the main priority. It would be great if he could win two New Zealand Cups. "He's an incredible horse with a fantastic nature. He will tell us when he comes to end of his racing career, but at the moment he is thriving. His stud career is well and truly on hold,” Casey said. Lazarus will be attempting to win his seventh race from eight starts at Alexandra Park, and fifth from seven over the distance. "'Barney' will keep him honest but it's hard to see them getting close to 'Laz". He's loving his racing and is showing no signs of a big season," Casey said.   Duane Ranger

A lot of harness racing pundits (us included) had doubts about the ability of Sky Major to bounce back from an horrendous overland trip in the Taylor Mile last week and come from the outside of the second line to beat the great field assembled for the $100,000 New Zealand Messenger. But as horses with that touch of real class can do, Sky Major produced probably his best run at Alexandra Park to run  over the top of them late and snatch the win right on the line. As expected hot favourite Ohoka Punter with Tony Herlihy in the bike easily led from barrier one from Tiger Tara and Mossdale Conner  challenging for the lead with Beyond The Silence in the trail. Mossdale Conner settled in the parked out position while Tiger Tara and Gerard O'Reilly snuck into three back on the inner. Sky Major with Zac Butcher in the bike had settled back in the running line but when horses made their moves three wide, he progressed to be three back in the running line. The field pretty much stayed in that order until 1100 metres from home when Australian visitor Messini went round three wide but couldn't get into the parked position and was left out there for the rest of the race. As they turned for home Ohoka Punter looked all over the winner, but first Tiger Tara burst along the passing lane to claim him and he was quickly joined out wide by a flying Sky Major who had got a lovely drag into the race on the corner. At the finishing line there was only a nose in it but Sky Major had got there by half a head and in the process confirmed himself as a starter in this years Harness Jewels. Tiger Tara was very game in second having been involved in the early burn while Ohoka Punter was slightly disappointing in running third after getting his own rules in front. Sky Major paced the 2700 metres in 3:15.6, a mile rate of 1:56.5 with closing sectionals of 56.9 and 27.8. The time was a new race record, taking two tenths of a second off the old race record held by Tintin In America Zac Butcher was thrilled to have won another race for his boss Barry Purdon.   " Barry is just a master at setting horses for these Group 1 races." " This horse was all out last week but he has got him here tonight in great order." " The horse has gone super but it wasn't until the last 50 metres that I thought we may get up." " I am absolutely thrilled," Zac said.   With that win under his belt, Sky Major will now head to the Harness Jewels where he is a major chance to become the first horse to win three Harness Jewels crowns. Harnesslink Media  

On the big night of harness racing at Alexandra Park tomorrow night we have four Group 1 races and we are going to do previews of them all. This is our preview of the New Zealand Messenger Championship. 1) Ohoka Punter  -  Starts: 27    Wins: 15    Secs: 5    Thirds: 5    Life: $590,033 Huge run from well back to finish third in 1:51.7 mile rate for 1700 metres last week. This weeks distance of 2700 metres is more to his liking but we would rather he hadn't drawn barrier one. We think he will hand up to Border Control who is not known to hand up to anybody so he should get the perfect run in the trail. The horse to beat but no past the post certainty. 2) Tiger Tara  -  Starts: 33    Wins: 11      Secs: 7    Thirds: 6    Life: $397,974 Smart run from a bad draw in the Taylor Mile and much better off in that regard this week. Died in the wool stayer who loves the speed on all the way and liable to get that this week. Has gate speed so may have a dig for the lead but drawn to get a good run regardless. Must include for all trifecta and first four takers. 3) Border Control  -   44    Wins: 18    Secs: 15    Thirds: 5    Life: $549,986 Another huge run last week after he was wide early and then parked out the rest of the journey in a 1:51.7 mile rate. Has taken a while to come back to his best after a long injury break but right in the zone now and this distance is right up his alley. We think he will try to lead and he is such a noted front runner that we don't think any driver here will try to hold him out. Will give a great sight and a major player from this draw. 4) No Doctor Needed  -  Scratched 5) Dalton Bromac  -  Starts: 16    Wins: 10      Secs: 3    Thirds: 1    Life: $98,728 Great run from barrier eight last week where he was wide for the first 600 metres in a race run in New Zealand record time. Ricky May felt he blew out with 100 metres to go last week and Benny Hill has admitted he made an error and the horse was less than 100% going into the race. You know that won't be the case this week and with the scratching of No Doctor Needed, Dalton Bromac comes into barrier four which makes him a major player in this. Include in everything. 6) Mossdale Conner  -  Starts: 43    Wins: 11     Secs: 11    Thirds: 4    Life: $208,161 Brilliant performance last week to destroy the New Zealand record for 1700 metres over all of these horses he faces here. Good record at the 2700 metres distance so don't discount just because of the draw as has high gate speed and can go forward from here. Great trifecta and first four chance. 7) Te Kawau  -  Starts: 28    Wins: 10   Secs: 7    Thirds: 6    Life: $96,224 Newcomer to the meeting who has a great overall record but just seems off his best in his last few starts to us. Good record on the track and over the distance but the draw is a killer for him as we think he will have to go back early which makes it very hard to get amongst it. Not for us 8) Messini  -  Starts: 37    Wins: 15    Secs: 9    Thirds: 2    Life: $296,884 Very disappointing last week from barrier one but he did have an excuse. Hit a knee and broke on the final turn last week which cost him any chance at his first start right handed. Am sure that Brent Lilley will have worked on that this week and Dexter is still on board. One to throw in to build up those first fours                                                                             SECOND LINE 9) Beyond The Silence  -  Starts: 24    Wins: 8    Secs: 7    Thirds: 2    Life: $89,985 Even though he didn't get much luck in the running last week, he didn't run on that well in the straight in our opinion. Liable to end up in the trail or three back on the back on the inner at worst but we still find it hard to see him as a major player here. Not for us. 10) Ideal Success  -  Starts: 25    Wins: 9     Secs: 2    Thirds: 2    Life: $58,180 Has been on a golden run on the Country Cups circuit but this is a completely different ballgame here. The distance won't worry him but the depth and the quality of the opposition will. Deserves his place here but in saying that we don't think he is a first four player. Not for us. 11) Isaiah  -  Starts: 36    Wins: 13     Secs: 5    Thirds: 11    Life: $582,992 Worked hard early last week and still ran on well over the last 200 metres after he got shuffled back a bit. Can do plenty of work in his races and stick on and this distance is much more to his liking than last week's mile. Draw makes it hard for him but definite trifecta and first four player for us. Don't overlook. 12) Sky Major  -  Starts: 37    Wins: 13     Secs: 7    Thirds: 5    Life: $614,869  No chance last week after he was posted three wide in the open for the last 1000 metres in a race run in record time. This is not his favourite distance and we would much prefer him the left handed way of going where he has had most of his big race wins. Class will take him a long way but we think he is a trifecta and first four chance in this field from this draw. SELECTIONS Five year olds have an obvious advantage in these mixed races and our selections reflect that. Ohoka Punter is the obvious one to beat from the draw but we see two main dangers to him winning One is the super stayer Border Control who is in great form and the other is Dalton Bromac who will be the big improver out of last weeks race. For trifecta and first four players include Tiger Tara, Mossdale Conner, Isaiah and Sky Major Harnesslink Media                                                                        

The big four year old feature the $100,000 Taylor Mile at tonights harness racing meeting at Alexandra Park was wide open after the barrier draw and trying to pick a winner was really hard. When the gate left, Maurice McKendry shot the son of Bettor's Delight Mossdale Conner to an early lead and applied the blowtorch right from the start. Dalton Bromac worked to the death from barrier eight before handing up to Border Control who found the death seat with 1000 metres to go. Sky Major improved three wide but Mark Purdon was not handing up the death seat and Sky Major was left out there for the rest of the race. Meanwhile Maurice continued to roll along in front with Mossdale Conner and was still traveling well as they turned for home. Pinching a couple of lengths as they turned for home, Mossdale Conner had enough in reserve to hold out a game Border Control by a length with Ohoka Punter flying home late for third in front of another big finisher in Tiger Tara. Mossdale Conner paced the 1700 metres in 1:58.1, a mile rate of 1:51.7 with closing sectionals of 55.4 and 28. The time was a new New Zealand record, taking 1.6 seconds off the previous record held by Gold Ace and every runner in tonights race went under the previous record. The first four home were all by siring sensation Bettor's Delight, Mossdale Connor, Border Control, Ohoka Punter and Tiger Tara. Trained at Woodend by Greg and Nina Hope, Mossdale Conner is usually driven by Ricky May but with Ricky committed to Dalton Bromac, Maurice McKendry picked up the drive in the Group 1. Maurice was all smiles post race. " I was lucky to pick up the drive because Ricky was committed to another horse." "Greg asked me to drive him at the trials last week and I was really impressed as he went 2:42 for 2200 metres and had plenty left at the finish." "Greg offered me the drive after the trial so that worked out good." " I just let him roll along in front and as I thought he would, he found plenty in the straight," Maurice said. The way he won tonight, Mossdale Conner comes right into calculations for the New Zealand Messenger next week. Note: Followers of the weekly ringaround on Harnesslink would have been laughing all the way to the bank tonight after Maurice McKendry gave out $20 shot Mossdale Conner as his bet of the week. Harnesslink Media      

If she wasn’t there already, Venus Serena rocketed herself into the status of superstar today at Addington. The brilliant three-year-old filly notched up the fifth Group One of her career this afternoon (Saturday) at Addington when winning the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies final in New Zealand record time – the fourth of its kind in her career. And the fun hasn’t stopped yet. Such is the domination of the Geoff Dunn-trained filly that she will go out a red-hot favourite in the remaining two Group One battles for her age group and sex this season. The first of those will come as soon as next week when Venus Serena returns to Addington to tackle the New Zealand Oaks. Then it is on to Cambridge for a tilt at becoming a dual Jewels winner on May 31. And Dunn had a warning for those who will take their place in the Oaks next week. “She has only had a workout in between her last run and today, so you would like to think she will get better,’’ he said. Venus Serena lowered the NZ record held by champion three-year-old filly Carabella when stopping the clock at a blistering 2.19.1 – 0.6 seconds inside Carabella’s time. After burning out of the gate from her handy draw, Venus Serena was given little respite throughout the 1950 metre event but still had the audacity to run away from her opponents at the top of the straight. Things might have got a little interesting had North Island filly, Ideal Belle not galloped rounding the final bend when in the trail though. The Barry Purdon-trained runner managed to pick herself up off the canvas and put the issue to Venus Serena, but John Dunn who was sitting in the bike of the winner quickly eliminated any concerns she might have been beaten had the incident occurred. “She fights like a tiger when another horse comes up to her,'' he said. “When she got clear she pretty much knocked off but when Zac came up on my inside she grabbed the bit again. “It was a pretty impressive performance considering she pulled the whole way. “She was very keen today.’’ The win gave John Dunn his second Group One victory in less than 24 hours following the victory of Elios in the New Zealand Messenger at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Owned by Bob and Jenny Sandford along with Geoff Dunn – Venus Serena has now won 13 of her 18 career starts and is closing in on $600,000 in stakes and with $225,000 left to race for this season that figure should improve noticeably over the next month. Ideal Belle lost no admirers with her second placing while Rocknroll Arden emerged out of the pack to finish in third position. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Champion harness racing trainer Mark Purdon is far too good of a horseman to even consider risking superstar mare Adore Me. That is why the queen of New Zealand harness racing will bypass next Friday’s $100,000 New Zealand Messenger and will instead be freshened for the Harness Jewels. “She has run three New Zealand records in a row and I just feel it might be taking a bit of a toll on her so we will now freshen her for the Jewels,” said Mark Purdon. “The Jewels have always been her main aim for the season and the stake is bigger than that of the Messenger, so it isn’t worth risking her by giving her another gut-buster,” he added. However, the All Stars team will have a more than handy replacement in the race in the form of Border Control, who currently sits 23rd in the 4YO Emerald rankings and needs a top three finish to even gain the opportunity to defend his Jewels crown. Meanwhile, freakish two-year-old colt Follow The Stars is set to return to New Zealand early this week, while his stablemate Kept Under Wraps will continue to campaign in Australia with Luke McCarthy until after the Australasian Breeders Crown. By Mitchell Robertson

Even a break down on the way to the races couldn’t stop leading trainers’ Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen from dominating another Premier nights racing at Addington. “It wasn’t an ideal start to the night but things quickly came right,” laughed Natalie Rasmussen. “Luckily, Majestic Horse Floats were able to get all of our horses there on time,” she added. The All Stars team was then successful in five of the twelve races, with Adore Me’s victory in the $100,000 Group One Easter Cup the clear highlight. Driven superbly by stand in driver Blair Orange, the champion mare began well from her ten metre handicap and soon after looped the field to take up the front running position. She then enjoyed a nice run in the van before kicking strongly in the home straight to easily hold off a long sustained run from last year’s Easter Cup winner, Terror To Love. The All Stars’ Arden Rooney, who was driven by Natalie Rasmussen, finished a further nose away in third. “Tactics were always going to be crucial in a small horse field and after she began so well I decided to make the most of her ten metre advantage over Terror,” said driver Blair Orange. “She travelled right up on the bridle the whole way and never seemed in doubt. “She is definitely right up there with Auckland Reactor as the best horse I have driven,” he added. Adore Me, who is affectionately known as Ruby around the stables, became the first four-year-old mare ever to win the Easter Cup when winning the two mile feature in a mares record time of 3-59.9. Amazingly, it is the second record Adore Me has set in the space of a week after obliterating the 2600 metre standing start record last Friday. The Taylor Mile, where she will again be driven by Blair Orange, and the New Zealand Messenger in Auckland are now her upcoming targets. The other All Stars winners at Addington were Full Speed Ahead (Blair Orange), Arya, (Colin De Filippi) Rocknroll Arden (Blair Orange), and Tokohoka (Natalie Rasmussen), while Mark Purdon was successful aboard Supersonic Miss in the APG Semi Final in Sydney, giving the barn six winners for the night. By Mitchell Robertson

Talented trainer Mark Jones knows that if he is patient now he will be rewarded later. That is why he has sent his superstar four-year-old Saveapatrol to the spelling paddock, bypassing an array of features including the Easter Cup, Taylor Mile, and the New Zealand Messenger. But it does stop there either as Saveapatrol will also miss the Harness Jewels, even though he is currently the 4YO Emerald Stakes leader.  “I want to give him a good break so he can have a big preparation for the New Zealand Cup next season,” says Jones. “He has had a great season and has done more than I could have ever expected of him,” he added. “I want to look after him, that is why we are not going to be greedy and go for every race,” he explained. “I’m just lucky he has such a great owner (Grant Hatton) that is allowing me to do it.” “This way he should be able to race in top company for a few years,” he enthused. Meanwhile, Purdon and Rasmussen are set to launch a three-pronged attack on the upcoming Australian Pacing Gold Series in Australia with Follow The Stars, Kept Under Wraps, and Supersonic Miss, all set to fly out on Thursday. Follow The Stars and Supersonic Miss both trialled well yesterday at Addington, while Kept Under Wraps was a stylish debut winner at Invercargill on Sunday. However, news is not so good for Gentle Western, who was injured in Sunday’s Southern Supremacy smash. “He has cut his knee badly and taken some skin of his shoulder and will need two months out,” said Purdon’s son, Nathan. By Mitchell Robertson

Saturday’s Geelong Pacing Cup winner, Chilli Palmer, is coming to New Zealand to contest the two Group One 4-year-old events at Alexandra Park, and then if he can earn enough dollars, the Harness Jewels Final at Cambridge Raceway on May 31. Victorian trainer Dean Braun all but confirmed the New Zealand trip after Chilli Palmer’s 3.8 metre victory over the $1.40 Geelong Cup favourite, Smoken Up. “I’m meeting with the owners on Tuesday night but I can virtually say it’s a done deal. He will contest the Taylor Mile (May 2), the Messenger (May 9), and then hopefully the Jewels Final (May 31),” Braun told Harness Racing New Zealand. He said Chilli Palmer was likely to contest a race at Alexandra Park on Anzac Day - a week before the $100,000 Group One events. “We got tripped up last  time we were here. You need to have a good look at the track before you line a horse up at Alexandra Park. “The first bend is vital. I’ll probably fly the horse in the Saturday before Anzac Day or possibly even the Wednesday so we can trial him on the Saturday. “I don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” he stressed. He was referring to his 2012 New Zealand Messenger champion, Mustang Mach, who went a shocker a week before in the Taylor Mile. “He finished last on the first night and then he and Dexter (Dunn) came out and won the Messenger beating good horses like Gold Ace and Terror To Love. He later ran an unlucky fourth in the Jewels Final at Cambridge,” Braun said. The 37-year-old Lara (near Geelong) horseman said he was delighted with Chilli Palmer’s $30,000 Group Three victory on Saturday, but rated his Group One $125,000 McInerney 4yo Ford Classic victory at Gloucester Park as his best. “What he did that night was unbelievable. He sat back, launched and killed them. I’ve only ever seen one other horse do that on that track. “I’m not saying he’s in the same class as ‘Quinny’ (Themightyquinn), but it was a run I’ll never forget. That’s why I think he will go great on the bigger Alexandra Park track. I’ve trained him that way and it doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Braun said. Like Mustang Mach, Chilli Palmer was bred in New Zealand. Terry and Glenys Chmiel did his early preparation with him. They won two trials at Rangiora and a workout at Motukarara before he was exported to Australia on February 11 last year. Chilli Palmer has now won 10 of his 14 starts and $175,594. He recorded his quickest mile rate of 1:51.5 when winning the Group Three $30,000 Garrards 4yo Bonanza at Tabcorp Park on February 8. He is likely to stay at Tony Herlihy’s stable at Ardmore with Herlihy’s former employee Amanda Grieve. She has been employed by Braun for the last seven weeks and will travel with the 4-year-old Elsu gelding. Chilli Palmer is owned by Braun, Mara Scarpino, K. Farah, A Kheir, J. R. Pezzimenti, S. Parkinson, A Mathews, C Badcock, and A. Badcock. He was bred by Graeme Henley and S. R. Henley. Braun regarded his 2012 NZ Messenger win with Mustang Mach as his career highlight. “It’s hard enough beating the Kiwis on any track but to do it in their own backyard was special. I want to repeat the dose. In fact we are coming to win all three of your Group one races. “I wouldn’t be sending him there if I didn’t think we could achieve that,” Braun said. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Just a day after it was announced that Great Southern Star winner Keystone Del will tackle the upcoming Triple Crown at Alexandra Park, news has come through that gun Victorian four-year-old Chilli Palmer is also likely to be at the meeting. The Group One winning four-year-old, who was educated here in New Zealand by Terry and Glenys Chmiel, is likely to compete in both the New Zealand Messenger and the Taylor Mile according to his trainer Dean Braun, who is no stranger to campaigning horses in the north. Braun, who has risen to stardom in the training ranks in recent years, enjoyed success with another former Kiwi in Mustang Mach in the 2012 NZ Messenger, meaning that the Victorian trainer knows exactly what to expect if and when his star Elsu gelding touches down in Auckland. This information is sure to thrill Auckland Trotting Club officials, who have already confirmed that the Brent Lilley trained Zedalite will be in Auckland during April.   Meanwhile, top driver Dexter Dunn, who has now driven seven consecutive centuries, reined home his 100th winner for the season when victorious aboard Marchesa at Wingatui today. By Mitchell Robertson  

Mike Ward won the Group One New Zealand Messenger Championship in 1996, but Saturday’s victory by Majestic Time in the Group Three $25,000 Neumann’s Hambletonian Classic at Ashburton was his career highlight. Ward owned and bred Decision Time but Mark Purdon trained him for 10 days before that Messenger triumph. “I think this win is even sweeter because even although we also bred this filly, and our family also owns her, I did the training this time round,” the West Melton horseman said. Majestic Time was the fourth favourite in Saturday’s 1609 metre mobile trot and paid $9 to win. She and driver Ken Barron had 1-1/2 lengths and a length to spare over place-getters, Any Old way (Paul Nairn) and Thebestlove (Anthony Butt). Winner’s time: 1:58.6. Last 800m: 58.4. 27.8. Majestic Time is owned by Ward, his wife Pauline, daughter Susan, and son Craig. “I’ve always had a bit of time for her. That’s why I gave my kids a share in her. I didn’t want to give them a dud,” Ward said. The bay filly is by Majestic Son out of the Ward owned and trained five-win ($54,939) Sundon mare, Time To Shine. She left four foals but died last year while foaling to a Muscles Yankee filly. “It’s a real honour to win a big race like the Hambletonian. It’s a prestigious race, especially here in Canterbury. She will make a good broodmare one day,” 63-year-old Ward said. He said there was still one win he would now dearly love to win – the Group Three New Zealand Trotting Oaks at Addington on April 4. “It’s the only major race on the calendar where she will get to take on her on sex. She beat the boys and girls on Saturday and should be tough to roll against the fillies. “But this is racing and you can never take anything for granted because you just don’t know who is going to come out of the woodwork, especially from the North Island,” said Ward who is a builder by trade and works three horses at West Melton. Mark Purdon won the last three Hambletonian Classics with Paramount Queen (2013 in 1:59.7), Escapee (2012 in 1:59.5), and Kylie Ree (2011 in 1:59.9). Purdon might not have won yesterday’s big trot but he and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen did claim their own Group Three prize on Saturday when he drove Follow The Stars to win the $25,000 Teltrack Sapling Stakes for 2-year-old pacers. Isaiah also won the same race from him in 1:57.2 last year, but Follow The Stars beat that time recording a blistering a 1:53.2. The Geoff Dunn trained Venus Serena was again brilliant in the third heat of the $15,000 Nevele R Fillies heat, recording the fastest mile of the day in a lightning 1:52.2. Driver John Dunn late last month told HRNZ the 3-year-old Mach Three filly was the best horse he had driven. She further endorsed that reputation on Saturday with her quickest career mile win, and 10th in 15 starts. Venus Serena has now banked $434,152 in stakes. Ashburton again proved to be one of the fastest tracks in New Zealand on Saturday when the 10 races carded all produced sub two-win miles. In fact Majestic Time’s 1:58.6 triumph was the slowest of the day. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Junior reinsman Jack Mackinnon will be rewarded for the time he has spent helping trotting maestro Paul Nairn over the past four years, when he takes the reins behind Dr Hook at Alexandra Park on Friday night. “It is going to be a huge thrill to drive him on raceday as he is a horse I have had plenty to do with,” explained Mackinnon, who started helping Nairn during his trips to Auckland about four years ago. “I met him through David Branch and things have just spiralled from there,” said Mackinnon. “He really is a pleasure to be involved with and he has taught me a lot,” he added. Mackinnon has been the caretaker trainer of 13 win trotter Dr Hook since his last start failure at Cambridge on January 10. “I have been training him on the beach out at Michelle Wallis’s and he is absolutely thriving on it,” enthused Mackinnon. “His work on Tuesday was super and I am expecting a very big run from him.” Through Mackinnon being a concession Junior Driver, Dr Hook gets a 20 metre let-up in the handicaps, which could just be enough to see the eight-year-old son of Dr Ronerail bounce back to winning form. “Flying Isa and Sovereignty are the two hardest to beat but they are both of 40 metres, while through the handicapping concession we are only off 20,” explained Mackinnon. “So all things being equal he should be hard to beat.” Mackinnon also has two stable representatives competing at Tauranga on Sunday, including stable newcomer Trotupastorm. “I have been working him on the beach as well and he seems to be really enjoying it,” said Mackinnon. “He’d have to be an each-way chance if he was on his game.” Mackinnon’s other runner this weekend is Ruby Castleton and while the ability is definitely there, the manners may not be. “She is a touch on mad side, but if she was to do things right she would she would take a lot of beating,” confirmed Mackinnon. Mackinnon has currently driven two winners, but looks a strong chance to add to that tally this weekend, hopefully with his old favourite Dr Hook. Meanwhile, last season’s Great Northern Derby winner Ohoka Punter is set to resume in the ninth race at Alexandra Park tonight. “I have been happy with his last two trial wins, so he should be hard to beat,” said Herlihy. “Obviously he will improve with a bit of race fitness, but you have to start somewhere,” he added. Herlihy originally had Chariots Of Fire aspirations with the hugely talented Bettor’s Delight four-year-old, but after consulting his father-in-law, the legendary Roy Purdon, he may now opt to set him for the local classics. “Roy said it’s too early to rush him into the ‘Chariots’, and that’s why I we will probably give it a miss.” Ohoka Punter has drawn well in barrier three for tonight’s $13,000 Auckland Cup Festival C4 to C7 pace, his first race start since finishing third behind Border Control in the Group One Harness Jewels 3yo Final at Ashburton on June 1. “I’m really happy with everything he has done so far this time in. It wouldn’t surprise me if he won, but then again it wouldn’t surprise me either if blew out a bit in the final stages either,” said Herlihy. With the Chariots Of Fire most likely off the radar, Ohoka Punter’s main short-term targets will be the Auckland four-year-old features in May – namely the Taylor Mile and New Zealand Messenger. “After that we will programme his racing from there but there’s always racing for him here during the winter. Long-term there’s the Jewels and then hopefully at the end of the year, the New Zealand Cup,” Herlihy said. By Mitchell Robertson

Harness Racing New Zealand Chief Executive, Edward Rennell, has just, moments ago, announced some changes to next year’s Harness Jewels format on Radio Trackside. The changes include increasing the field size for each of the nine Harness Jewels events to 13, and inviting one Australian competitor across to compete in each of the nine categories. “The changes will not make it harder for New Zealand horses’ to make the fields,” stressed Rennell. “There will still be 12 spots for the top stake earners in New Zealand,” he added. “The only difference is there will be a 13th spot for an Australian horse, which doesn’t necessarily have to race here beforehand.” However, Edward is hopeful that it will help entice some Australian horses for races such as the Taylor Mile, New Zealand Messenger and, New Zealand Oaks, which are all run within a month of the Harness Jewels. The added Australian interest is expected to help ‘Internationalised’ the iconic New Zealand event. More Australians betting on the Harness Jewels and increased international awareness are some of the main aims. By Mitchell Robertson Top Australian Horses to receive an Invite to Harness Jewels In a change to the conditions of the Harness Jewels, the Board of HRNZ has agreed to extend an invitation to a leading Australian horse in each age group category. The field size for each race will be extended to thirteen should the Australian horse take up this invitation. It is believed this will grow interest in the Harness Jewels in Australia and further enhance the profile of this event which has become a key event in the racing calendar each year. The 2014 Harness Jewels are to be hosted by Harness Racing Waikato at Cambridge Raceway on 31 May 2014. Total stakes for the day will be $1.2m over the nine races, with this continuing to be New Zealand’s only race meeting where all stakes are for a minimum of $100,000. In announcing this change, HRNZ Chairman Gary Allen said “This is an exciting change that will further enhance the quality of racing at the Jewels and be of great interest to the racing public. Inviting the leading Australian horse in each age group to participate will add an extra dimension and offers the opportunity to attract a larger audience. This has been a fantastic series for New Zealand participants and now is the perfect time to grow the international presence and awareness of the Harness Jewels.” “The change will provide additional depth to the competition for each race and further enhance this as an iconic event on the international stage. It gives HRNZ, the New Zealand Racing Board and Harness Racing Waikato a great opportunity to further promote the event and grow turnover domestically and internationally,” Mr Allen said. The twelve local contenders will continue to be determined based on stakes earned in the season within New Zealand as per the normal approach. The Australian invite will be selected on 1 May 2014 by a panel constituted by Harness Racing Australia (HRA). HRA Chief Executive Andrew Kelly said “This is an outstanding development that will provide a great opportunity for our leading horses to match their Kiwi counterparts. This will be of significant interest to our industry and will help lift awareness of this great race day within Australia. HRA looks forward to be involved and hopefully we will see for the first time an Australian break the hoodoo and win on Jewels day.” For more information please contact Harness Racing New Zealand - 03 964 1200 Harness Racing New Zealand

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