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Canterbury harness racing trainer-driver Nigel Raymond McGrath has been cleared of a race-fixing charge arising from an 18-month industry investigation. It was the only charge McGrath, 45, faced as part of the police's Operation Inca inquiry into racing industry figures last year. Christchurch District Court Judge Raoul Neave dismissed the charge and McGrath was able to walk away. He had no name suppression, but one aspect of the case remains suppressed. Prosecutor Karyn South told the court the Crown believed there was enough evidence but the "public interest test was not met". Defence counsel Pip Hall QC Hall said the defence position was always that there was not enough evidence for the charge to proceed. Read the full story here.   by David Clarkson Reprinted with permission of Stuff

As reported by Stuff, one of harness racing's brightest young prospects is one of seven people charged after a long-running inquiry into alleged race-fixing and drugs in the industry.  Police confirmed they have charged seven people in relation to Operation Inca, which culminated in raids on 10 harness racing stables in Canterbury, ManawatÅ« and Invercargill on Tuesday. More raids are understood to be happening on Wednesday.    Read the full story here   Martin van Beynen and Mat Kermeen  

Classie Brigade can bounce back from his shock last start defeat at Alexandra Park tonight but he will have to do it without one of his best mates. Because regular reinsman Blair Orange will stay in the South Island to drive at Addington tonight to galvanise his lead in the national driver's premiership which, while still healthy, was cut back by a rampant Dexter Dunn last week. In Orange's absence, Nathan Purdon, who now works for his uncle Barry, will partner Classic Brigade, with Barry having looked after the open class pacer for much of the last month. Nathan was on Classie Brigade when he returned from a 15 month layoff to win two starts ago but Orange was reunited with him in the $40,000 Uncut Gem last start when he dropped out to run fourth behind race rival tonight in Billy Badger. "Initially I was very disappointed but when you analyse it they went 2:38 [for 2200m] on a winter night and he was only second up without any hard racing," says trainer Nigel McGrath. "So I think he just wasn't ready for that sort of time, especially in a race where he had to work. "Barry has been looking after him since and you couldn't ask for a better man for the job so I am sure he will be fitter." McGrath said Orange offered to come north to drive Classie Brigade even though it would have meant passing up several winning chances at Addington. "But I told him to stay down there and keep getting winners for the premiership. I'm sure Nathan will do a great job." The race may not come down to Purdon's skills as much as what unfolds in front of him. If Billy Badger can step well from his 15m handicap and work around to the lead, leaving Classic Brigade to do all his own work, then it becomes a huge challenge. But if natural front runners like Juice Brogden or Seaswift Joy get the lead and their drivers are keen to stay there then Classie Brigade could get the perfect drag on Billy Badger's back and be the horse to beat. Billy Badger's trainer Robert Dunn holds a key hand in tonight's main trot too with Woodstone and Sundees Son both in winning form and with the speed to threaten open class rival One Over Da Moon. The latter has been favourite for similar races recently but not well suited by handicaps. And while the best version of him would win back to the 1700m mobile tonight, Woodstone in particular looks to be racing at least as well if not better. Michael Guerin

After 13 months in the harness racing wilderness Classie Brigade is back where he left off --- trying to beat Buster Brady. The forgotten horse of the open class scene returns at Alexandra Park tonight after over a year on the sidelines with mystery lameness. “He has had every test known to man and we still don’t know what was wrong with him,” admits trainer Nigel McGrath. “But the main thing is he is fine now and ready to race. “He has had a long slow build up, done a heap of swimming and had three workouts. “Obviously nothing gets them as fit as racing and the small field could be tricky but he is ready to go well. But the tactics and tempo of the race could decide things.” Classic Brigade is in tonight’s last race at Alexandra Park to prepare for a $40,000 Uncut Gems race next week, a kind of Jewels consolation race which is a very juicy carrot on the relatively bare winter landscape. Tonight he finds himself against a familiar foe. When Classic Brigade last raced 13 months ago he ran fourth to Buster Brady in the Winter Cup, the start before he just beat him home. And the pair look set to dominate again tonight. Buster Brady is now trained by Barry Purdon and has an obvious fitness edge tonight and with the race only having four starters, whichever of the two favourites is able to dictate to the other will probably win. But while that fitness edge means there probably shouldn’t be much between the pair in the market, on sheer class Classie Brigade is the better horse. A race earlier former Jewels winner One Over Da Moon faces an interesting challenge in the main trot, having to overcome a 40m handicap over 2200m, something very few horses have accomplished at Alexandra Park.   Michael Guerin

Sometimes your dreams come at a cost. Trainer Nigel McGrath will discover the exact price at the Harness Jewels on Saturday. It has been 54 days days since McGrath won the race he has coveted his whole life, the New Zealand Derby at Addington with Sheriff. In one of the great modern day derbies, Sheriff nosed out Pat's Delight and Sicario in national record time, with the trio set to clash again in the last race on Jewels day. The Derby hurt, with the 3:5.4 time for the 2600m mobile akin to what the older horses do to themselves in a New Zealand Cup. His recovery has been slow, giving McGrath one of the biggest challenges of his career. "To be honest, straight after the Derby I would have been happy for his season to be over," says the Canterbury trainer. "It had already been a long season and it was an incredible Derby and he was tired. "So I eased right up on him and while I have kept him fit and happy, I haven't asked him for much since." That was in evidence when Sheriff raced below his best at Addington last start and maybe again when he was a solid but hardly sensational second at the Cambridge workouts last Saturday. "I was initially disappointed but Todd Mitchell drove him and rang me straight away to say it was a good run and I trust his opinion. "And he is a Bettor's Delight, we know they can be different horses on raceday. "So I think he will improve and come out on Saturday and be the good horse he is. But whether that is good enough to win, we will find out." While the front line for the mobile mile looks one of the fastest of the day, McGrath says he may add pull-down blinds to Sheriff's gear to get him keen enough to work to the lead and then give driver Blair Orange a turbo button to hit at the top of the straight. But with Pat's Delight drawn to be close by and Sicario having thrilled his connections with his work this week, anything below the Derby-winning version of Sheriff is going to have a huge fight on his hooves. McGrath actually takes one of the three previous Jewels winners racing to Saturday's meeting, with Dizzy Miss Lizzy brilliant at this meeting last season but missing in action since. She has had nine starts since her Jewels stunner, all this season for a fresh up win and a second in the Sires' Stakes Final, the other seven being unplaced and largely disappointing performances. "She has been terrible for much of the season," is McGrath's blunt assessment. "But she has had all sorts of problems. She has been in season a lot and I think she is over that and she has actually worked the best she has in a long time this week. "I think she might be back to something like her best." From barrier two in the three-year-old Diamond, Dizzy Miss Lizzy has the option to try and lead and could even hand up to hot favourite Shez All Rock, which would make her a value place hope. Michael Guerin

Watching the New Zealand Derby unfold in front of your eyes was something that had to be seen to be believed. Think Terror To Love’s first New Zealand Cup, Flashing Red’s second, and Father Christmas winning on debut at Oamaru. The last race may only be dear the heart of the scribe and his syndicate members, but you get my drift. This race had it all. From go to woe it was electric and by the end you were scrambling to catch your breath. Sitting behind the Chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, Ken Spicer, I looked down at his reaction at having possibly bred a New Zealand Derby winner. Lips pursed and looking for encouragement, he didn’t find any in the faces of those around him! “I was standing behind Bob Masefield one of the owners of Sheriff. We couldn’t hear the commentary and Bob sought of shrugged his shoulders and slammed his race book and I thought bugger, we had just got beat in one of the biggest races of the season,” said Spicer. “Soon enough as the replays came up on the big screen and it became clear we had won, it was a great feeling and made for a great night.” Ken’s wife and co-breeder of Sheriff, Anne Marie, was a little more confident on the result having the aid of a commentator with an eye for a close finish. “I was standing down the stable watching on the TV so I knew he had won as when Mark McNamara calls a horse home he’s usually pretty much on the money. Watching the race I didn’t think he was going to win, he did so much work going down the back and never had a breather but it was incredible really,” she said. Despite a lot of goodwill on race night from friends and fellow race goer’s, the occasion took a while to sink in for the Spicer’s. “Watching the race was exciting but it wasn’t until a couple of days afterwards that it actually sunk in that as a breeder we’d actually bred a derby winner. It’s really just starting to sink in now, we’ve bred a derby winner and its really cool,” said Ken. It must be bloody cool when the horse who has just broken the clock in the biggest pacing race for three year olds in Australasia was raised in your own back yard. The story behind how Sherrif came about is also bloody cool, and one that goes to show that sometimes everything happens for a reason. “We’ve been friends with the Sandford’s for a long time and when it came time to retiring Inspiring Dash, I said to them that Anne Marie and I would be keen to breed from her with him when she had finished racing. We started breeding and her third foal Jen Marie came about,” said Ken. “The idea was that she was to go to the sales but she had a bit of a twisted front foot and wasn’t the best of lookers and was slightly on the small side.” “She failed the final inspection with PGGW so we paid the Sandford’s out and raced her in David Butt’s care where she won her first start. She had a lot of high speed, and that was shown in the first start where she beat Miss Moonlite who was a pretty good filly at the time. She got a bit crook and never showed her true potential. Her true potential would be in the broodmare paddock being from a prolific family that descended from broodmare gem, Witchlight. The dam of the derby winner Jen Marie is a direct descendant of Witchlight via Lochaime (Lordship), Awesome Dream (Soky’s Atom) and Inspiring Dash (Falcon Seelster). When you throw in her own dam sire, Christian Cullen, there really isn’t a weakness in the maternal line, particularly when you look at some of the other progeny who were around at the time from this family. The likes of Corumba, Flying Sands, Bella Chip (Bella’s Boy, Winter Rose, Bettor’s Strike), Lento and Awesome Armbro had all scorched the tracks prior to Jen Marie’s arrival from Inspiring Dash. Just after making a decision to retain Jen Marie upon her failed inspection, her full sister and first foal from Inspiring Dash was just starting to make some noise from the barn of Michael House. “She had awful front legs as Ken mentioned and when she was turned away from the sales we made the comment that she was always going to be a full sister to Rona Lorraine who at the time had just won the Caduceus Club fillies race for two year olds in Auckland. As it turned it out, she was actually a half-sister to Venus Serena as well. Lightning was to strike twice with another Group One winning daughter to be bred from the Sandford’s and Spicer’s broodmare gem, Inspiring Dash. A similar story to the plight of Jen Marie just about struck again when the Spicer’s took Venus Serena home from the sales. Only this time, the astute breeders were to pull on the wrong rein. “We ended up taking her home from the sales but we had another filly at the time that was a half to Cowgirls and Indians and we decided to keep her and let Bob and Jenny have Venus instead, which was a great choice to make in hindsight,” joked Spicer. Everything happens for a reason as they say and although the daughter of Mach Three would go on to win just shy of $800,000 and Multiple Group 1’s, as Ken said; “That’s just how it goes.” Still with plenty to smile about, Jen Marie was just starting to leave her foals. “In a paddock of 14 mares, Jen Marie would be the last one you would pick out on type and she is also the smallest, but she leaves the most amazing foals every year. “She’s plain but the thing about her is she has a big backside, a big chest and she’s long barrelled but she’s not the prettiest thing as a complete package and her short tail does her no favours,” joked Ken. “We got it wrong slightly with the first mating going to Real Desire but as it transpired that foal won a couple of races (2012 - Real Dash) and she’s done a job with Bettor’s Delight. That she has, with the Robert Dun trained Wrangler being her second foal with earnings in excess of $60,000 in a brief career to date. Standing at 14.2 hands on a good day, Jen Marie might be what you would call a risky prospect for a commercial breeder to be sending to a sire like Bettor’s Delight. Size matters at the yearling sales and selling a small yearling can be a tall ask. Thankfully for the Spicer’s, Jen Marie’s progeny have only inherited the quality traits of their mother. “None of her foals are big but she throws the length in to them and you can see that with Sheriff who isn’t the biggest but has inherited his mother’s scope. Anyone that has been on the Canterbury Yearling tour has had an opportunity to take in the magnificent property that is Rosedale Farm on the outskirts of Christchurch for which the Spicer’s have developed over quite a lot of years.  “We’ve been here 30 years now and did all the planting ourselves, it used to be a dairy farm and only had water to a couple of paddocks and was covered in scotch thistles. It was just four big paddocks of over 40 acres. “We’ve just been around horses all our lives Brad having grown up in Ashburton going to the races and in his later years my dad actually trained a few. Anne Marie’s father was an MP and raced a good horse with George Noble called Seafield Rose. She was actually one of our first broodmares together and we started breeding from one of her daughters Bibi Maizoon,” said Ken. The early interest from both families has transpired into a lifelong passion of breeding commercially and the Spicer’s have been no stranger to success at the sales having bred multiple six figure horses such as Wrangler, Better Think Quick and Corona to name a few of the more recent ones. “We’re breeding from fourteen mares altogether and have some lovely maiden mares in foal for the first time this year. Kate Black who is Kate First’s last foal and Black Rain who is out of Rona Lorraine,” said Anne Marie. “We’re quite excited about a mare called Flo Jo who is an unraced Jereme’s Jet mare who we bought at the Mixed Sale and her first foal is Smokin By with Mitch Kerr who has won his first two starts. She’s a half-sister to Inspiring Dash and Gail Devers. Ken found himself wondering with so many from the same family whether the time had come to diversify slightly. “I was thinking 5 or 6 months ago maybe I had too much of the one breed, and Sheriff comes along and you think maybe it was a smart move. It can go either way cant it, if none of the mares produces quite as you hope then the pages start to look a little thin in the sales book but now we have the derby winner on nearly seven of our sales pages. As they say, you can’t have too much of a good thing! And that good thing has seen the Spicer’s reach the pinnacle in the past fortnight, a height that wouldn’t have been reached without the training brilliance of Nigel McGrath. “He’d been pestering us for 15 years to give him a horse and it was only when Maverick was sacked by Davie and Catherine that Maverick ended up there and he’s done a super job with him. “He deserves so much of the credit because he thinks outside of the box as a trainer and is very particular with minor details and coming up with a plan,” said Ken. “Winning a Derby was special but Maverick winning on Cup Day when he went 3:08 was my biggest thrill,” said Anne Marie. The next big thrill might be just around the corner with some of Sheriff’s younger brothers starting to come to the fore. “We’ve just gone and picked up Sheriff’s half-brother El Dorado (Art Major - 2016) from  Stephen Boyd’s place who we have a small share in with a group of friends that raced Kate Black, Mavericks half-sister with us previously. She’s in foal and has a beautiful Bettor’s Delight colt at foot presently which we believe is her best foal yet,” said Anne Marie.   This article featured in the Breeders Update, click here to read the most recent issue: Click here to subscribe: Courtesy of Brad Reid NZ Standardbred Breeders Association

Harness racing 3yo Sheriff has smashed the NZ mobile 2600m all comers record when winning the $200,000 (Gr1) New Zealand Derby at Addington Raceway tonight . The Nigel McGrath trained pacer ran the mobile 2600m in a blistering 3-05.4 which obliterated the old record held by the Purdon/Rasmussen trained Vincent by more than half a second.  McGrath had three nice chances in the race as he also trained race rivals Aloka and Star Commander, but he rated Sheriff the best of the horses he had in the race. "He has come up nice this year and every start this season he has found the line really well. "He ran a good third in the Northern Derby and I think he is ready tonight," he said before the race. Sheriff (Bettor's Delight - Jen Marie) had to work hard to loop the field on a hot pace and he finally found the the lead with 700m to go. The classy pacer then had to withstand all the challenges in the straight, but lasted to beat a fast finishing Pat's Delight by a nose at the line. Driver Blair Orange was ecstatic after the race and said, "It was a great win and Nigel had him peaking at the right time. "I had a good battle with Dexter up the straight but luckily the coin flipped my way." Sheriff rated 1-54.7 over the 2600m mobile and zipped over his last 800m in 56.4 with a closing 400m in 27.5 seconds.   Sheriff winning the NZ Derby   Harnesslink Media

Blair Orange knows all about beating the seemingly unbeatable. He is doing it right now, day by day, as he continues on his surprising path to the national driver’s premiership, downing perennial champion Dexter Dunn. Barring injury, a huge suspension or a freakish Dunn performance between now and  August 1, Orange will beat the man who has won the last 10 premierships. But at Addington tonight he has to do something even tougher. He has to try and beat the All Stars in a Derby. Like the premiership, Orange thinks he can do just that with Sheriff and like the premiership he knows it won’t be easy. Sheriff has a second line draw and four All Stars runners, headlined by Anthem and Sicario, to contend with in the $200,000 New Zealand Derby. Nobody knows more than Orange how hard it is to beat the legendary stable in the Derby, after all it was working for the All Stars that he made his name. “I think we can win, because they are beatable. Everybody is beatable,” says Orange.   “But I also know how good Mark and Nat are at what they do, how ready the horses will be.  “And they have numbers of their side. We might be good enough to beat three of theirs but you have to beat all four.  “But I think Sheriff is as good as their ones, especially with Chase Auckland out.”  On paper it appears Sheriff has slightly the better draw of the three favourites as he follows out a fast beginner in Pat’s Delight but Orange says that means little.  “You look at these races and think who you are following out matters but it very rarely does,” he says.  “If I try and punch through behind it at the start then I am probably three wide on a hot pace for the first 800m and I think they will go very hard.  “So I don’t see that happening but what it does mean is I might be able to settle in front of Sicario and Anthem and that could help.”  The reality of the Derby is all three favourites are likely to settle in the second half of the field, not a bad thing with a likely hot tempo, then move together and the one who ends up in the one-one with 1000m to go becomes the one to beat.  “That sort of luck will play a huge role but this is a horse who can win a Derby so we have our chance.”  While so many Derbys in the modern era are won by horses on the marker pegs saving valuable ground tonight’s 2600m mobile could be an exception, with Sicario and Anthem such good stayers, but the race looms as one of the more competitive classics in years.  It it matched by the Trotting Derby where the northern stable of John and Josh Dickie have a strong two-horse punch in Girls On Film and Paramount King, with backing both not the worst play.  The Dickies have another group one shot with Speeding Spur, who is the horse to beat in the $100,000 Trotting Champs on form and with the best draw.   Michael Guerin

Nigel McGrath isn't giving up. And the 16 new horses he has in his stable are proof of that as much as the two he has in Friday night's $250,000 Woodlands Derby at Alexandra Park. McGrath has Sheriff and Aloka in the classic, again up against the might of the All Stars stables, who have the favourites in Chase Auckland and Sicario. The All Stars pair relegated Sheriff to third in last Friday's Derby prelude, a position McGrath was not unused to. But he and fellow Derby trainer Cran Dalgety are two southern horsemen who in recent years have been able to, at least on occasion, halt the All Stars domination of our classics and Jewels. Dalgety has Pat's Delight in this Friday trying to emulate Raukapuka Ruler's shock Derby win of 12 months ago, while last season McGrath trained Dizzy Miss Lizzy to win a Jewels and Sales Series Pace over the best of the Purdon-Rasmussen fillies. He says training in such a rare, elite era is a challenge rather than discouraging. "It has been said by a few people before but it is like finding a way to beat the All Blacks, it's not easy but it's not impossible," says McGrath. "We did it a couple of times in major races last season and we have done it before in Sales Series races up here (Auckland). "I think you can only keep analysing what you do as a trainer and keep trying to get better. "But of course it also comes down to what stock you have and that is why the yearling sales are so important. "I took 16 yearlings home this year from the sales and I bought them to win Derby and Sires' Stakes races, not run second or third. "Those yearlings are my future and my owners' future so we are in for the fight," McGrath says. McGrath is bringing that attitude to Friday night's Derby, saying he will instruct driver Blair Orange to use Sheriff's barrier draw to try and stay in front of the All Stars pair. "I think often if you hand up you are running for second or third at best. "And sometimes that is fine because each horse has to be rated to its strengths. "But I think Sheriff is good enough to try his luck and make them work." McGrath's second-stringer, Aloka, cost punters plenty when galloping in front in a lower-grade race last Friday but the trainer is not expecting a repeat of that problem: "He is a place chance at least ..." While Chase Auckland lost his unbeaten record to Sicario last Friday, he will open as Derby favourite, having been forced to sit parked, and should improve with the run, his first in two months. This Derby has real depth, incredible because it is an unusual year for our elite pacing three-year-olds, with sales, sickness and exports having halved the number of stars available. Of the 13 top juveniles who made it to the Jewels last June, only two return for Friday's Derby while Australasian Breeders Crown winner King Of Swing has been sold to Perth. So the fact Alexandra Park has been able to attract nine genuine top-class three-year-olds is surprising. The classic is the highlight of a huge meeting, with two rich juvenile finals, the City of Auckland Free-For-All, Greenlane Trotters Cup and Northern Mares Classic making it the strongest Alexandra Park meeting for the rest of the season. Woodlands Derby Alex Park, 8.48pm Friday $250,000, 2700m mobile The field 1: Culpeka (1) 2: American Brave (2) 3: Triple Eight (3) 4: Sheriff (4) 5: Aloka (5) 6: Chase Auckland (6) 7: On The Cards (7) 8: Pat's Delight (8) 9: Sicario (1 second line) Michael Guerin

Matt Anderson, who is a regular visitor to the south as he chases the junior drivers premiership, has a bit of a following. When he returned to the stabling area with Invercargill Cup winner Maverick he received plenty of calls of ‘well done’ from those in the South Stand.  Maverick, who started off the 20 metre mark with favourite Robbie Burn, stayed out of the early action as Hopes And Dreams and Nathan Williamson set the pace in the 3200 metre Group Three feature. Inside the last 800 metres Anderson sped the six year old forward. By the time the horse had reached the 400 he had his head in front of a tiring Hopes And Dreams. He held on tenaciously to beat stablemate My Wee Man and Robbie Burns, who both fought bravely. The winning margin was a length and a quarter.  Maverick (8) and Matt Anderson winning the Invercargill Cup - Photo Bruce Stewart. “We navigated around the handicap and picked our time to move. When we did I asked plenty of him and he delivered,” said Anderson. The winner is trained by Nigel McGrath who won the Invercargill Cup last year with Classie Brigade in a sensational time of 3-23.5. Today's winning time was 4-05.2. It was Anderson's second winning drive in the cup. He won with the Brent Shirley trained Costa Del Magnifico in 2016.  "I owe Brent Shirley a big thanks. He’s worked on my relationship with Nigel McGrath. I’m really grateful.” Maverick has now won ten races and $121,065 for his connections which include HRNZ Chairman Ken Spicer and his wife Anne- Marie who also bred the gelding. He's by Bettor's Delight out of the Auckland Cup winner Kate's First.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

The most impressive winner on Cup Day at Ascot Park yesterday was the Nigel McGrath trained Sheriff which won the McKnight and Brown Mobile Pace. Driver Ricky May drove the three year old colt like he was the best horse in the race - which he was. He blasted out from gate six, took the lead and went to the line untouched to win by four and three quarters of a length from Ana Malak which came from last to run second. The winning time on an off track was 2-40.2. “It was a pretty easy drive really- he just went super. He was jogging all the way to be fair. He’s got a bit of a future this fella. If he keeps improving he’ll be right up with the top ones,” said May. Heading back                         - Photo Bruce Stewart. This was the second time May has driven the colt. He also drove him when he ran sixth in Chase Auckland's PGG Wrightson New Zealand Yearling Sales Three Year Old Final.  “He drew bad, had no luck and he ran on really strongly.”   May says that Sheriff will make an ideal Southern Supremacy Stakes runner for McGrath later in the season. Winning connections with sponsor Bernie Brown - Photo Bruce Stewart. Like Maverick, he was also bred by Ken and Anne-Marie Spicer. He's out of the Christian Cullen mare Jen Marie. The Spicers are offering a half-brother by Art Major in next month's sale in Christchurch. His name is El Dorado.  Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing    

It's great when a plan comes off - and it did yesterday when the Nigel McGrath trained three year old Aloka won the House Of Travel Lakers Summer Cup at the Northern Southland Meeting.  "Nigel wanted the race run at tempo from the front. He was on his hands and knees at the finish but everything else was as well luckily," said driver Blair Orange. Orange took the Bettor's Delight colt straight to the lead and made sure the race was run at even quarters.  "He's not with the top tier of three year olds but he is with the ones in the middle. There's still a few things he does wrong but I think he'll get better and be a better horse in twelve months." The winning margin was two and a half lengths with a game The Big Boss, which sat parked for most of the trip, finishing second.  The overall time for the 2700 metres mobile was 3-21.0, a second outside the track and Southland record for three year olds of 3-19.1 held jointly by Highview Tommy (2009) and Eamon Maguire (2017). Aloka remains unbeaten at Ascot Park. In his only other start on the track last April as a two year old, he won the Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic. Returning to the birdcage                                           - Photo Bruce Stewart. The win was one of three for Orange, the country's leading reinsman. The others were with the Clark Barron trained Giftofjoy and another McGrath trained runner Gore Bay.  Orange says it's likely Aloka will be back in late April to contest the $45,000 Group Two Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes on Diamonds Day.  Aloka has a full-brother in next months Sale of the Stars in Christchurch. Meanwhile Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray and stable driver Brent Barclay scored a treble at the meeting yesterday. The three winners were Bettor B Ready, Zealand Star and The Heart Rulz. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing Aloka winning his race.

"I thought the other horse had won actually. Blair told me he'd got me," said trainer driver Nigel McGrath after backmarker Maverick beat stablemate My Wee Man in the Sir Lincoln at Alabar Riverton Trotting Cup at Ascot Park on Sunday. The winning margin was a nose. "He (Blair Orange) goes round more than me so I thought he must be right." The six year old Bettor's Delight gelding which is part-owned by McGrath with Ken and Ann-Marie Spicer has now won nine races. "He's had a Methven Workout and he's been to the beach a few times and he's started to work really good in the last few weeks. I thought 35 (metres) might be a bit tough today." He now carries a rating of 102 and McGrath says it'll be very hard to place Maverick in races that he's competitive in. "Very hard. He's not very far away from being retired. He'll go away and a be a hack. He's a lovely quiet horse." McGrath has had the gelding since he was a late three year old. He won one race for David and Catherine Butt. He's out of the nineteen win Holmes Hanover mare Kate's First whose wins include the 1997 Auckland Cup.  The win on Sunday was McGraths 500th. His first was Lasting Vance at Westport in December 1999.  Meanwhile quality colt Franco Santino won the SBS Bank Nugget Final holding off a late charging Lawrence to win by a length. He's owned by Riverton fisherman Neville Cleaver. As part of the Riverton Trotting Clubs Owner For The Day promotion the horse was also 'gifted' to Monique and Christian Harvey. Oliver Kite, Franco Santino, Neville Cleaver and Monique and Christian Harvey -  Photo Bruce Stewart. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Harness racing trainer Nigel McGrath trained his 500th winner yesterday when Maverick, a six year old gelding won the Riverton Trotting Cup for him at Ascot Park.  McGrath started his training career in 1999 and racked up 9 wins in his first season, with his first training win coming on Lasting Vance at Greymouth on the 26 December 1999.  He has been stacking up the wins ever since, with his best season coming in 2004, which provided him with 46 wins and a further 46 placings. Maverick a son of Bettor's Delight won his ninth race yesterday and took his stake earnings past $100,000. He had to be good to win the race after starting from a handicap of 35m and working hard during the running. McGrath also in the sulky for the win, was up parked with a lap to go after beginning quickly from the standing start. In the straight Maverick was pressured by the stablemate My Wee Man and Blair Orange, but dug deep and fought back to win by a nose at the line. The winner paced the 2700m form the standing start in 3-25.4, with the last 800m cut out in 58.2 and the 400m in 28.2 seconds. Maverick winning at Ascot park yesterday! Harnesslink Media

The Nigel McGrath trained My Wee Man, impressive winner of the First In Windsor Mobile Pace will stay in the province this week and start in this Sunday's $14,999. Sir Lincoln Riverton Cup. My Wee Man is owned by Peter Boag and his wife Karen who were both on-course today to see their four year old by Changeover win. "He's a good tough wee horse. He sort of likes to race near the speed. He was bought at the sales for $18,000 off Grant Crabbe. He qualified as a two year old and ran second in the Sires Stakes Silver. He missed a bit of racing as a three year old because we had to geld him. He was a wee bit colty. It's made a big difference," said Boag. The Boags who operate a sheep and beef farm in the Greta Valley, also own Dizzy Miss Lizzy which McGrath bought for them at the Sales. She won her first start at the Northern Southland Meeting in March before winning the end of season Two Year Old Diamond on Harness Jewels Day at Ashburton. She won three of her four starts for the McGrath stable. They also have a full sister to Dizzy Miss Lizzy by Bettor's Delight called Good Day Sunshine. She was purchased by Peter at the sales for $20,000.  "He (McGrath) thinks she'll run as a two year old and hopefully she'll come down here and race in the Caduceus Club of Southland Two Year Old Classic in March." That race was won by Dizzy Miss Lizzy last season.  Boag's father Peter Senior trained forty nine winners between 1980 and 2001 including Unique Blue Chip (9 wins). He also owned Sundon trotter Unique Star (15 wins). Incidently Unique Star at the end of his career was trained by Leonne Jones who trained Belmont's Greatest to win at long odds for driver Craig Ferguson today. Belmont's Greatest (5) beating Grace O'Malley (7)             Photo Bruce Stewart.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Canterbury trainer Nigel McGrath is just 10 wins away from reaching the notable milestone of 500 career training wins and will soon launch an impressive spring racing team. Classie Brigade, the winner of 11 from 35 starts, is being aimed at the New Zealand Cup (3200m) on the second Tuesday of November at Addington. “He’s back in work and looking toward the New Zealand Cup,” McGrath said of the five-year-old Bettor’s Delight stallion, who has not raced since May.  He won six from 13 last season, including the 3200m Invercargill Cup in January in 3:53.5, after starting from 30m behind. Lazarus clocked 3:51.3 in winning the NZ Cup by 10 lengths. “Ears Burning [seven wins] will head in the same direction. It won’t be easy but both deserve the shot.” Also waiting in the wings until the weather turns are Aloka, Sherriff, Star Commander and Dizzy Miss Lizzy - all capable of doing very good things this season. “On what they all showed in their previous campaigns you would like to think that one or two of them will take the next step up. “Aloka showed how good he can be early on, while Sherriff and Star Commander both have a heap of potential. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy will be aimed towards the filly races which will see her come in a bit later on in the season. “They’ll all target the classic races.” But before the big guns start firing, McGrath has some useful firepower to help him edge towards the 500-win mark, after starting training in the year 2000. Two of them will step out at Sunday’s Rangiora meeting, with Turkish Trousers and My Wee Man both flying the stable flag. Both horses are fresh-up and will derive benefit from their races, but both are strong chances after trialling well. Turkish Trousers, second at Rangiora in January, was tidy at a recent workout and McGrath is expecting a good showing from the one draw on Sunday in race four, the first leg of a $25,000 Pick6. “She’s a nice enough mare who is more than capable of going close fresh-up. I wouldn’t say she’s a world beater, but she should do a nice enough job this time in. With her good gate speed I would expect her to settle handy to the speed. “I thought her workout last week was pretty good. She’ll improve with the run, but gets a good chance fresh-up.” My Wee Man is a horse who McGrath has always had plenty of time for. “We had issues with his gait last time, but the motor has always been there. I think he will do a good job this time in and gelding him really seems to have worked the oracle. Hopefully, he lives up to what I think he is capable off.” A four-year-old entire by Changeover, My Wee Man’s sole win in nine starts was at Rangiora. He takes on impressive Ashburton winner The Kiwi Way in race nine, who has drawn the ace for trainer-driver Robbie Holmes. NZ Harness News

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