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By Jonny Turner Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson has plotted a path from Gore to the glory of the Interdominions at Alexandra Park for Otago horse of the year Majestic Man. The 5yr-old will begin his first full season as an open-class horse in a relatively minor race at the Eastern Southland track on Saturday. The race will serve as a starting point for Majestic Man as he works towards the Interdominions, his main aim for the season. Returning to Alexandra Park to race right-handed, under mobile conditions, makes the series a perfect fit for the Rowe Cup placegetter. ''Our main goal for the year is to get through to the Interdominions,'' Williamson said. ''It's well proven that he's well suited to the Auckland way around and I just think it's a series that he'll be suited to. And he's got plenty of gate speed - or enough to be competitive with those top horses.'' Majestic Man will step back into the top classes when he heads to the Ashburton Trotters Flying Mile on Labour Day. From there, Williamson will formulate a plan for the horse through to the New Zealand Cup Carnival. ''We will just go race by race and see how happy we are with him.'' Majestic Man had a quiet hitout at the Oamaru trials yesterday, running third behind Playboy's Brother and pacer Spirit Of St Louis. Though the horse will not be at his absolute peak for Saturday's race, Majestic Man will be forward enough to be highly competitive. ''It would be disappointing if he didn't give it a bit of a nudge,'' Williamson said. ''He has had a couple of trials underneath him and I think he will run well. It did take him a couple of runs [to get fit] at the beginning of last season, so I wouldn't say he is a line-up-and-win job, but I'm sure he will go a nice race.'' Majestic Man will start alongside stablemate Monty Python from the back mark of 40m in Saturday's 2700m handicap. The 10yr-old showed the first glimpse of form of his new campaign when second behind Robbie Royale at Northern Southland last weekend. Monty Python had little chance in his previous two runs when getting back in a sprint home at Oamaru behind Oscar Bonavena and getting left parked in the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup. ''He is an old fellow, but he doesn't show his age,'' Williamson said. ''He's racing really well. We haven't had a lot of luck with him this time in. He just needs the right run in a good race, if we can get in to it.'' The country's trotting ranks got a boost yesterday when Monbet won by five lengths at the Rangiora workouts. The Greg and Nina Hope-trained trotter's career hung in the balance after two poor efforts following his return from a long injury battle. Monbet won his 2600m event in the moderate time of 3.22.8. The heat featured another trotter who has been out of action through injury in Luby Lou. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Phil Williamson’s trotting genius helped the New Zealand flag fly proudly on Australasian Breeders Crown Finals night at Melton on Saturday. Williamson led the charge for the kiwi contingent by producing blueblood trotters Liberty Stride and Ultimate Stride for emphatic victories. Liberty Stride set the tone for a great night out for the New Zealanders when powering away from her opposition to win the group 1 3yr-old fillies final. Williamson’s renown trotting skill shone through when the filly, who had galloped in two of her three Victorian starts, put in a faultless display to win by almost 20 metres for driver Anthony Butt.  “It is a big thrill for us – massive,” Williamson said.  “We are just so thrilled to come here and win nice races, it is not easy.” “You do have to bring the right horses and if you have a nice horse this is what you can achieve.” Williamson had put the finals night polish on his daughter of Muscle Hill and Jasmyns Gift at the Victorian stable of Brent Lilley and his partner Tracey Cullen. Williamson revealed his Victorian venture had become far more than just a business trip.  “I have been here for six weeks with [Brent], he has been a sensational host.” “His partner Tracy is up at 4.15am feeding the horses and their little son Jack has allowed me in to their family.” “I have just had a fantastic stay.” Little more half an hour after Liberty Stride’s demolition job, Williamson produced Ultimate Stride for an even more emphatic group 1 victory. The son of Love You and millionaire mare One Over Kenny embarrassed his Australian opposition when he ran away with the 2yr-old trotting colt’s and gelding’s final by nearly 40 metres.  Ultimate Stride powered through tough conditions as rain and wind pelted the Melton track during the group 1 event. And though his Australian opposition could not match him, Anthony Butt revealed that he could not get his charge to go any slower.  “The conditions weren’t ideal.” “He was getting pretty keen that first lap – I couldn’t get him going any slower. “ “He just wanted to get on with it, but he was very good, he smashed them.”  The New Zealand contingent added a third Breeders Crown title to their haul in dramatic circumstances when Kratos was crowned the 3yr-old trotting colts and geldings winner in the enquiry room. The John and Joshua Dickie trained squaregaiter was second past the post in a thrilling three-way finish with the winner, All Cashed Up, and third placegetter Majestuoso.  All Cashed Up galloped late in the run home, but it was not just a case of waiting for the horse to be automatically relegated like he would have been under New Zealand rules for breaking over the line. An enquiry was held to decide whether All Cashed Up had either had not gained an advantage or at least was unable to maintain his momentum when galloping. Stewards ruled All Cashed Up had not complied with Australia’s breaking rules and Kratos was crowned the group 1 Breeders Crown champion.  Earlier on the Melton card, star filly Princess Tiffany was defeated in a shock result in 3yr-old pacing fillies final. Sitting parked throughout, and copping some minor interference before the home turn, took its toll on the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained 3yr-old when she was beaten in to third behind upset winner No Win No Feed. Princess Tiffany was caught late by fellow New Zealander, Best Western, who continued her superbly consistent Breeders Crown campaign by finishing second.  The New Zealand pairing of Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac could not match brilliant Australian colt Be Happy Mach in the 2yr-old pacing colt’s and gelding’s final. But, the pair still performed admirably and completed a brilliant night for the New Zealand contingent by finishing third and fourth respectively.    By Jonny Turner Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson had one of those dream nights in Australia last night, winning two Group One races at the Melton track, and both trotters were very impressive. “It’s getting up there. To win two Group One races in one night and three Group One races with two horses in six weeks is a pretty good effort I’d say,” said Williamson, rating last night’s achievement. Three year old trotting filly Liberty Stride got the ball rolling, winning her Breeders Crown Final by 19.4 metres in the hands of former New Zealand reinsman Anthony Butt. One race later Ultimate Stride continued on his winning way by taking out the two year old section of the Breeders Crown. Having completed his Australian trip unbeaten – he’s won all of his four starts and has banked $87,490 for owners Emilio and Mary Rosati. Williamson who’s no stranger to taking horses to Australia says both horses were eligible for the rich series, so a trip to Australia was always a possibility. “We just had to make sure their form was right. Liberty Stride won at Forbury and went super. Ultimate Stride had a couple of wee issues at the Jewels so I had to get on top of that. He’s a very soft skinned horse and was having trouble with cracking his heels and bleeding. Once that happens they’re not happy. We gave him a wee bit of time off.” Normally members of the Williamson family drive Phil’s horses on both sides of the Tasman but not this time, with Williamson hiring expat Anthony Butt. “He’s a big race driver and that showed in Liberty Stride’s race. He probably outdrove the others. I used him when I came over for the Interdominions. With the boys (Nathan and Brad) having their own busy lifestyles with their own teams and Matty having just been away to the World Drivers Championships it made more sense to use Anthony.” Ultimate Stride’s dam One Over Kenny won six races in Australia including the Group One Australasian Trotting Championship and the EB Cochran Trotters Cup in 2007, and a semi-final of the 2009 Interdominions. Jasmyn’s Gift, the dam of Liberty Stride also raced in Australia but without much luck. Williamson says Ultimate Stride will return home on Wednesday but Liberty Stride will stay in Australia to be trained by Brent Lilley.  “As a four year old mare there’s not a lot of opportunity in New Zealand. She’s up to it but it would be harder. If she gets a nomination for the Harness Jewels she’ll come back to me for that. Brent’s been a wonderful host and has looked after me really well.” Ultimate Stride, after a busy juvenile season will now have time off. “He’ll have six to eight weeks off and we’ll look towards racing him after Christmas. All going well we’ll head back to Australia for the Three Year Old Breeders Crown and we’ll have another crack at the Victoria Derby. It was the only one that got away from us on the trip.” Springbank Richard won the Group One Victoria Derby for Williamson and son Nathan in 2007.   Bruce Stewart

One of the proudest nights of Phil Williamson’s career has come at a cost. But the Kiwi trainer isn’t about to let that take the gloss off his group one double in the space of 35 minutes at Melton in Victoria on Saturday night. Williamson produced Liberty Stride (three-year-old fillies) and Ultimate Stride (two-year-old boys) to record massive wins in their divisions of the Breeders Crown, the first winning by 19.4m which seemed like a dramatic demolition job until Ultimate Stride nearly doubled that, winning his final by 37.8m after sitting parked. That set up a Kiwi clean sweep of the only three trotting finals they contested at the rich Breeders Crown meeting with Kratos a promoted winner of the A$80,000 three-year-old trot final after first past the post All Cashed Up, who beat him by a nose, was relegated for galloping. His win was the fifth Breeders Crown success for South Auckland trainers John Dickie but while he and son Josh had to have their little trotter trained to perfection to win, Williamson was still the star of the show. Liberty Stride was unheralded just two months ago yet her development curve has been so steep she now rates as one of the most exciting young trotters in Australasia, but Williamson won’t get to take her to the next level next campaign. Owner Emilio Rosati has decided to leave Liberty Stride in Victoria to be trained by Brent Lilley whereas Williamson will be bringing Ultimate Stride home. “Emilio bought her (Liberty Stride) off us so he gets to make those choices and it is hard to argue with because there isn’t a lot here for a four-year-old trotting mare,” says Williamson. “So if she qualifies for the Australian invite for the Jewels we might get her back but I’m sure what Emilio does with her long-term will depend on how she is racing.” Williamson was stoked by his first group one double, especially after spending nearly six weeks in Australia training just the two horses. “I think we had eight starts here for six wins, a second and gallop so they have really done us proud. “I was pretty excited last night. Group one don’t usually come easy but they both absolutely bolted in so I had time to enjoy them.”Ultimate Stride’s win was a bonus for Williamson who originally thought his juvenile season was over until Sydney-based Rosati talked him into tackling the Crown. “It was a real after thought but he thrived on the trip and while it is only two-year-old racing I think everybody can see he is a real open class trotter in the making.”
While all three New Zealand-trained trotters won their finals the pacers had to settle for placings, with Best Western second in the three-year-old fillies final in which fellow Kiwi filly Princess Tiffany was surprisingly beaten into third after nothing went her way. And the juvenile pacing boys pair of Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac were outpointed by the local star Be Happy Mach in their A$300,000 final.   Michael Guerin

PHIL Williamson has put his name alongside Mark Purdon as the only Kiwi trainer to win Australia’s treasured Group 1 Redwood Classic. Purdon has trained and driven two winners of the juvenile trot at Maryborough – High Gait (2015) and Daenerys Targaryen (2013) – and Williamson won yesterday’s renewal with the exciting Ultimate Stride. It was a truly Kiwi affair with Anthony Butt making the trip down from his NSW-base to take the reins on Ultimate Stride. “It’s a time-honoured race and one I’ve always wanted to win. It’s great to finally get it,” Butt said. “It’s been a hard race for the Kiwis to win, so all credit to Phil for coming across and winning it.” The Aussie flavour from the win came through owners Emilio and Mary Rosati, who not race Ultimate Stride, but went back-to-back in the Redwood after Emerald Stride scored last year for trainer-driver David Miles. Butt said he was also confident in the run even when he had to make his move earlier than he wanted. “He was almost going to too, I couldn’t hold him any longer,” he said. “I was happy to make it a staying test anyway, I had faith in his staying ability.” Ultimate Stride was backed into $1.60 favouritism and won by 3.4m over Is That A Bid with Im Daddy Warbucks third in a 2min4.1sec mile rate for the 2190m standing start. His task was certainly made easier when second favourite Powderkeg galloped his way out of contention. Williamson’s hopes of a Group 1 double were dashed when his Victoria Trotters’ Derby favourite Liberty Stride galloped hopelessly at the start and finished tailed-out. ________________________________________________________________________________ YOU know something else special happened when winning first-up aboard Inter Dominion champ Tornado Valley isn’t the highlight of Kate Gath’s massive Redwood Day. Gath was left in awe of the raw but seriously gifted Majestuoso after thrashed his rivals in the Group 1 Victoria Trotters’ Derby. It’s no secret Kate and Andy Gath have a big opinion of the son of Majestic Son and no everybody knows why. The way he stormed around the field from near last, out four, five and six wide, then powered clear to win by an increasing 10.1m was something to behold. Majestuoso’s manners were an issue last season when he won two of nine runs, but he’s come back and although still green at times, he’s won eight of his nine starts this term. All Cashed Up led and ran well for second despite having every chance, while Kiwi raider Kratos couldn’t match Majestuoso’s brilliance, but worked home quite well for third. Majestuoso’s win capped a magical 30 minutes for the Gaths with Tornado Valley sparkling in his first-up win in the free-for-all. Despite drawing the back row and settling third-last while main danger Big Jack Hammer led, Tornado Valley launched a three-wide run from the 700m without cover and toyed with his rivals. Kate Gath just nursed him down the straight to win by 8.9m in a slick 1min57.9sec mile rate for 2190m. Arguably it was as impressive as Tornado Valley’s ever looked. ________________________________________________________________________________ ANOTHER of the highlights on Redwood Day was the winning return of former superstar juvenile trotter Wobelee. The Alison and Chris Alford-trained four-year-old did everything asked of him and won well after working to the front from a wide draw and dictating terms. It was Wobelee’s first run back after 13 months sidelined by injury. Kiwis will remember he ran third when clearly not at his top in the 3YO Jewels trotting final at Cambridge in June, last year. Wobelee’s raced 20 times for 15 wins, three seconds and two thirds.   Adam Hamilton

AUSSIE punters expect Kiwi trainer Phil Williamson to steal the show at Australia’s biggest trotting meeting on Sunday.  Williamson’s exciting pair Ultimate Stride and Liberty Stride dominate opening betting markets in their respective Group 1 assignments.  Ultimate Stride, who looked so good winning his only Aussie run, is a $2.10 favourite in the $50,000 Group 1 Volstead Redwood Classic for baby trotters.  Ultimate Stride has barrier nine – two-out on the back row – in the standing start feature.  And filly Liberty Stride, who stunned locals with a monstrous first Aussie wins, is $2.15 against the boys after drawing gate four in the $75,000 Group 1 Haras Des Trotteurs Victoria Trotters’ Derby.  Williamson has booked former Kiwi driver Anthony Butt for both races.  Butt replaced Chris Alford on Ultimate Stride as Alford is committed to his own family runner, Dreamee, from gate six.  Ultimate Stride’s main danger looks to be local Powerkeg, who he did beat easily last outing.  In the Derby, another Kiwi Kratos from the John and Josh Dickie barn is a clear $3.60 second elect despite the back row (gate 10).  The other highlight of the massive day is the return to racing of Inter Dominion trotting champion Tornado Valley in a free-for-all (race seven).  Tornado Valley missed a planned return race a couple weeks back with a minor setback.  Despite being first-up for almost five months and drawing the back row (gate nine), Tornado Valley is still a $1.90 favourite.  Main dangers will be fellow Inter Dominion finalists Big Jack Hammer (gate six, $3.50) and Save Our Pennys (gate seven, $6).   Adam Hamilton

The men who have been there, done that suggest the best run as much as the best horse will win tomorrow night’s $150,000 Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park. And while the TAB market says the young gun four-year-olds have the wood on their rivals the race is shaping as one of the most even group ones at Alexandra Park in years. Last Friday’s Anzac Cup winner Sundees Son shares the $4 favouritism with fellow four-year-old Majestic Man as bookmakers signal what they see as a changing of the guard in the open class trotting ranks. But Majestic Man’s trainer Phil Williamson says while he couldn’t be happier going into the race the youngsters will need more than sheer ability on their side. “It is a very good race and there are plenty of winning chances,” says Williamson, one of only two trainers in the race to have won both the Rowe Cup and the Dominion, New Zealand’s two marquee trotting races. “I think a lot of it will come down to the run and the horse who has the luck. “This field is that even and at this level luck is crucial. I think Majestic Man will handle barrier one and if he steps away and can trail or be three back on the markers I’ll be happy. “But as good as both him and Sundees Son were last week they can’t just expect to beat these older horses with speed because 3200m is a different type of race. “So yes we can win but it won’t be easy. These races never are.” That opinion is shared by Paul Nairn, the only other trainer in the race who has won both the Rowe and the Dominion. He has Ronald J and Habibi Inta in the Rowe and thinks both can get closer than their fifth and sixths in the Anzac Cup. “Both of them had a bit of bad luck last week, Ronald J got held up a bit and Habibi Inta was hitting the stays on his sulky, which we will fix for this week. “But they are only two of about six or eight chances in the race. “One of the big things in these races is having a horse who can get away good from the standing start and get to the marker pegs because that is a huge help. “Over the 3200m it can be very hard to win if you are covering extra ground in the running line.”
 That would appear to be the problem for horses like defending champion Speeding Spur and Sundees Son, both of whom have to give away starts from the second line and will therefore almost certainly be three wide at some stage. That didn’t bother Sundees Son over 2200m last Friday and he may be so brilliant and in the zone he can still win but he did gallop shortly after the line last Friday so is still very much a take on trust horse at the early stage of his open class career. While the Rowe Cup has a huge array of winning hopes the $100,000 Trotting Derby looks to have two and once against Nairn should be to the fore with Lotamaucle. He was nearly 20-1 when he beat Enhance Your Calm in the NZ Trot Derby last month but is only $2.90 to repeat that as he appears to be a happy horse while Enhance Your Calm bungled his Alexandra Park debut becoming unbalanced and galloping early. The best version of Enhance Your Calm may be too fast for Lotamuscle but even if the favourite can lead it looks like Lotamuscle could be sitting on his back in the trail and that could make for an uncomfortable watch for Enhance Your Calm’s backers. Turn It Up ($1.65)as again opened favourite over stablemate Spankem ($3.60) even though the latter used his better barrier draw to win last Friday’s Taylor Mile and has that advantage again.   Michael Guerin

Champion trotting trainer Phil Williamson is looking forward to taking a horse you have never heard of to the races at Addington tonight just as much as his stable star. Because debutant two-year-old Ultimate Stride won't remain unknown for long. That is how high an opinion Williamson has of last season's trotting sales-topping yearling heading into the two-year-old trot at Addington tonight. Ultimate Stride has only had a handful of workouts and trials but Williamson says he is at least as good as Oscar Bonevena, the star two-year-old he trained last season until he was sold for big money. "He is pretty smart but he might need to be from the second line," says Williamson, who leads the national trainers premiership for trotting wins. "Ideally he would have drawn the front line and could have made his own luck and off the second line it is not as easy to be confident. "But I think he is a pretty good horse and he can still win." Williamson also lines up his stable star Majestic Man in tonight's four and five-year-old trot but says his chances might depend on the readiness of key rival Winterfell. "It is a good field and I respect a horse like Sundees Son but Winterfell is a horse we haven't beaten yet so if he is at his best maybe we will struggle to beat him. "Don't get me wrong, our horse is a genuine open class horse but I can't tip him to beat Winterfell until we have done it before." Winterfell's stablemate Ultimate Sniper looks close to a good thing in tonight's Flying Stakes, the lead-up to the NZ Derby in two weeks. The race of the night at Addington will almost certainly be the clash of group one winners like Sheriff, A G's White Socks, Elle Mac and Eamon Maguire in the $30,000 free-for-all, with the early tempo the key as those who work hard could be left sitting ducks. At Alexandra Park tonight On The Cards will enjoy not having to face stablemate Jack's Legend in the main pace after finishing a close second to him in his last three starts. Back into a slightly easier grade the rugged pacer should be able to use his gate speed to go forward and control race six and looks one of the better bets of the night, along with Heavyweight Hero in the main trot after it took Massive Metro to beat him last start.   Michael Guerin

The future of one of New Zealand’s most talented young trotters is in doubt.  Oscar Bonevena is set to miss most if not all of the remainder of the season and trainer Mark Purdon admits the three-year-old’s career is in doubt.  “I hope that isn’t the case but it could be,” says Purdon.  Oscar Bonevena has developed a cyst in one of his knees and Purdon says vets suggest it could be a degenerative problem.  “We are still learning about it as our vet said it is so rare it is something they see only every couple of years,” said Purdon. “So we are seeking advice from experts in this sort of thing from overseas but he won’t be racing any time soon and at best will need a long spell.”  There is obvious disappointment in Purdon’s voice as while he also trains NZ’s top rated three-year-old trotter in Enhance Your Calm, he has a soft spot for Oscar Bonevena, who could be every bit as good as his stablemate.  Purdon purchased the then juvenile last season from Phil Williamson for former Kiwi trainer now based in the US, Chris Ryder, and Purdon’s own father, training legend Roy Purdon.  While he galloped at the Jewels, Oscar Bonevena reminded everybody how good he was with a fresh-up win at Alexandra Park in December which was followed by an enormous second there on New Years Eve when he trotted 3:26.2 for the 2700m, a full second inside Heavyweight Hero’s three-year-old national record.  “That was a huge run that day and he is a very good horse in the making so it is very disappointing to have this sort of problem with him,” said Purdon. With Oscar Bonevena sidelined indefinitely, Enhance Your Calm will be the stable flagbearer in the major three-year-old trots.  The first of those is the NZ Derby on April 5 and he will have a lead-up in the Sires’ Stakes prelude there on Friday week, a race which has been rescheduled from last Friday’s cancelled Addington meeting. “He is going very well and would be as good as any three-year-old I have had at this stage of the season.”  After the NZ Derby, Enhance Your Calm will head to Auckland for the Sires’ Stakes and Northern Trot Derby before rounding out his season in the Jewels.  “I think that will do him, we probably wouldn’t go to Victoria with him.” Michael Guerin

The drive by Brad Williamson set up the win for talented trotter Majestic Man in the Group Three Southern Lights at Ascot Park today (Saturday). When fthe avourite Kings Landing made the lead, his driver Tim Williams put the brakes on and Williamson was having none of that. With 2000 metres to run, in the lightning move, he shot Majestic Man forward and challenged the leader. “To be honest he’s a bit more of a speed horse but when Tim got to the front he backed off the tempo. I couldn’t allow that to happen. We had to get in a positive position,” he said. With 1400 metres to run Williamson was on top with the Majestic Son four year old and at the finish had half a neck to spare on Kings Landing which ran home up the passing lane. Williamson says there was confidence around the stable that the four year old would perform well despite  having been away from racing for 65 days. He trialled at Oamaru last Saturday winning his heat by six lengths. “He trialled exceptional. If you’d seen it you would have thought he was in with a very good show. He got home in 27 seconds and change, and was hard held. We had a lot of confidence that he was fit and ready.” It was a super effort by his trainer Phil Williamson to get Majestic Man ready. And it was a bit of a case of revenge as Kings Landing had beaten Majestic Man on Show Day at Addington. “A similar thing happened on Show Day. The speed wasn’t overly hot. Mark (Purdon) was up parked and he sprinted home and beat me. Today was the opposite.” The win was Majestic Man’s eighth in only nineteen starts. Back to the birdcage after win number eight - Photo Bruce Stewart. “We thought a bit of him as a young horse and he won the Two Year Old Sires Stakes Final but weakened right off quite badly after the run. He’s strengthening up and with hard racing he's got better as he’s got older. He’s still got to step up to the open graders yet.” The Jewels is well and truly on Majestic Man’s radar and another target is also possible.       “The Rowe Cup's been mentioned if he’s going good enough.” Majestic Man is raced by the Griffin Syndicate. Winning connections and sponsor - Photo Bruce Stewart  It was the fourth time Phil Williamson has won the Southern Lights. His previous winners were; Mystic Son (2009), Springbank Sam (2013) and Monty Python (2017). He brought his team south early this week, starting two well-bred two year old trotters Cracker Hill and Ultimate Stride at the Winton Workouts on Friday. Cracker Hill is a Muscle Hill – Juneamy Castleton gelding which is trained by Brad. It  beat Ultimate Stride, a Love You colt out of the millionaire trotter One Over Kenny. The winning margin was a nose but both horses we’re extended. Cracker Hill (8) just gets there from Ultimate Stride at the Winton Workouts - Photo Bruce Stewart Ultimate Stride was sold by Lex and Heather Williams of One Over Lodge in Waimate for $160,000 at the 2018 National Sales in Christchurch. He was bought by Australian’s Emilio and Mary Rosati and left with Williamson. Cracker Hill, which was also bred by the Williams, was passed in for $40,000 at the same sale.  Another impressive trotter that had a win on Friday was the Brent McIntyre trained Cuchulainn: a full-brother to the quality trotter Pickett’s Ridge the winner of four of his ten starts. Both are by Skyvalley out the Sundon mare Come Follow Me. Meanwhile Nathan Williamson’s classy trotter Chinese Whisper is staying put for the time being. He was under offer during the week but the deal fell through and he’s expected to have his next start in the province at Wyndham on Saturday.   Bruce Stewart

Winton breeder Neville Skinner had one of those harness racing rarities when his name was in the race book four times for the first race on the card at his home track at Winton on Monday. He bred the winner Only One Way, as well as Helluva Way (5th) and Tommy Tiddler (9th).  All three horses drew next to each other at the barrier. The occasion would have been even rarer if Lucky Me which had drawn five, had started. After a good start driver Matty Williamson took Only One Way straight to the top and he remained there for the entire journey, running out a three and a quarter length win over Star Dude. This was the three year old’s second career start and after the highly promising Chinese Whisper was scratched, he was made a commanding favourite. “Last time in (as a two year old) we thought quite a lot of him but he just weakened off a bit. Although he went quite a nice race (in the New Zealand Two Year Old Trotting Stakes) we thought he might have done a little bit more than he did. Hopefully this time after a break he’ll be a better horse and kick on a bit,” said Williamson. The Skinner trio - Helluva Way (Allan Beck), Only One Way (Matty Williamson) and Tommy Tiddler (Ellie Barron) - Photo Bruce Stewart  Trained by Phil Williamson he’s owned by Neville Skinner, his sister Judy Ward her husband David and their cousin Grant McMaster. The same group owned the ill-fated Alley Way which won eleven races. Matty Williamson says the Majestic Son three year old will still have to improve if he’s to step up to the better grade. “He didn’t steer very well today so hopefully we can iron that out because going up a grade he’ll be wanting to be doing everything right. He was hanging a bit today but he’ll be a lot better for that one.” The winning connections with Maurice Skinner holding the Jimmy Dillion Cup - Photo Bruce Stewart Williamson says the Hambletonian at Ashburton in February will give the team a better idea if the horse is worthy of a start in some of the age group races later in the season. Only One Way is of a breed that former local vet Peter Williams and the Skinner family have had a lot of success with. The breed stems back to the broodmare Princess Way which produced a host of winners for Neville and Judy’s father Maurice including Arbitrator (3), Gregory Peter (6), Arlington (3), Whizz Way (3) and Sundon’s Way (15). No Way is a daughter of Whizz Way. Once again Canterbury based trainers dominated the Southern meeting with Ivan Court winning Race Two with outsider Choice Lustre. Aylesbury trainer Stephen Boyd won with Back In Black, Vi Lee and I’ve Already Told You. All were driven by Mark Jones. It was the first time Boyd had trained three in one day.   Bruce Stewart

New Zealand’s Inter Dominion assault could swell to six after a couple of surprise additions. The annual trans tasman harness racing series returns to Victoria on Saturday week and has the added bonus of the return of the trotting series, which was last held in 2012. Both series will consist of three rounds of heats spread across Victoria and 2760m mobile finals at Melton on December 15 but the series, like last week’s New Zealand Cup, has been hit by the extraordinary number of injuries, retirements and overseas sales in the open class ranks this year. But while a brutal Cup week in Christchurch last week suggested New Zealand could have only two or three reps in the Inters, that number could double. Yesterday was the day many trainers sat down, dusted themselves off and planned the rest of the summer and one of the big winners has been the Auckland and Cambridge summer carnivals, with some of the industry’s glamour names staying home. That will include Thefixer, Dream About Me, Jack’s Legend, Turn It Up, Chase Auckland, Eamon Maguire and Elle Mac in the pacing ranks while Temporale, Lemond and Woodstone will also be coming north rather than heading to Melbourne.  Ultimate Machete, who missed Cup week with a hoof problem, has been on the water walker for the last week and co-trainer Mark Purdon will check on his progress before confirming an Auckland Cup campaign. That leaves the All Stars with Cruz Bromac as their confirmed Inter Dominon pacing hope with the option that Spankem could join him.  “We are still finalising a few different things and will firm everything up later in the week,” said Purdon.  While speedster Star Galleria is out of the Inters and will need a minor surgery, one surprise addition to the Kiwi pacing team could be Pat’s Delight. The Jewels winner has been both luckless and impressive over the last month and trainer Cran Dalgety is leaning toward going to Melbourne as the Inter Dominion final  could be no stronger than the Auckland Cup. “I am talking to the owner about it and he gets the final call but I am keen to go,” says Dalgety. In the trotting series Speeding Spur was always likely to go and after jogging out soundly for trainers John and Josh Dickie on Monday morning he will be in the series barring anything unforseen happening this week And he could be joined by two slightly unexpected fellow Kiwis in Alderbeck and Monty Python. Their trainer Phil Williamson says the Inter trip is on with the pair, who both had no luck in the Dominion last Friday. “I think they are both good enough to go to the series, make the final and get some money in it so we are keen,” says the champion trainer of trotters. But with driving sons Nathan, Brad and Matthew so busy at home, Williamson could be on the lookout for an Australian driver for the pair. Speeding Spur is rated the most likely New Zealand winner of one of an Inter final at $3.80 in most markets, while Tiger Tara heads many Inter Dominion pacing markets although Cruz Bromac could continue to shorten after his NZ Free-For-All win last Friday and once his participation in the series becomes more certain. Other plans for some of the big names from Cup week see three-year-old star Ultimate Sniper coming north for the Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park on December 31 buy intermediate grade speed machine Alta Maestro will stick to a South Island standing start race programme for now to continue to educate him.   Michael Guerin

Trainer Phil Williamson knew today that if Davey Mac had his mind on the job at Ascot Park he’d be hard to beat. Williamson had openly stated that quality trotter Majestic Man whom he also trains would be the hardest to beat but the start would perhaps be an issue for him, and that’s the way the race panned out. “Once we got round the first bend and he started to trot solid I knew then that they’d have to come and get him. Wee Majestic Man missed the start so he’s probably gone massive,” he said. Once in front Williamson put the handlebars down and it was all about ‘catch me if you can.’   “He’s always had ability but he’s been decidedly disappointing in some of his races because he hasn’t gone as good as he can do at home or at the trials. But today he got cracking a bit. Actually I couldn’t pull him up so that’s a good sign.” The winning margin was five and a half lengths with Williamson sitting quietly on the gelding. Majestic Man came a gallant second. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on him at the end of the race because if you go into a gallop right at the end you think ‘what did you do that for?” Back to the birdcage - Photo Bruce Stewart  Last season was Davy Mac’s first, and he went with a big rap. But after winning his first start as a five year old his form dropped away. “He was a whole lot more on the pulse today. He wanted to race a lot more than he did when he won his first race here. You’d have to say he’s come a wee way but there’s plenty of room for him to come a lot further. He’s got the ability of a good horse but he’s probably going to be one of those horses that’s going to be a work in progress.” He’s owned by Williamson’s wife Bev who bred the Sundon six year old out of her Britewell mare Little Contessa - making him a full brother to Irish Whisper, the winner of eleven races and Heard The Whisper, which won seven. “He’s a nervy Sundon and he wants to go out and run his first half in a quick time.” Williamson says he’s going to have to manage the gelding’s programme carefully so he reaches his full potential. “I’m going to space his races because he puts a lot in (to racing) and he takes a lot out of himself.” Phil’s win on Davey Mac was one of five driving wins by the Williamson family on the day. Meanwhile former Invercargill Cup winner Vi Et Animo made a surprise visit to his favourite track today as the mount for Clerk of the Course Sally McKay. He was on the fresh side and certainly put McKay’s arms to the test.   Bruce Stewart

Trotting's top couple couldn't have picked a better time to specialise. And punters who have followed Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett during their record-setting season will be enormously on the right side of the ledger going into Alexandra Park's second last meeting of the season tonight. Wallis and Hackett have trained 38 winners for the season, a personal best but more remarkably 37 of them have been trotters. Only Phil Williamson, with a New Zealand record 58 trotting wins in a season, has trained more but 25 of the Wallis/Hackett team's wins have lucratively come at Alexandra Park. Their huge season comes at a time when Alexandra Park are programming more trotting races and at stake levels unimaginable a few years ago.   With medium class trotting stakes set to hit $20,000 per race from next March, Wallis says Alexandra Park and a decision she and Hackett made has saved their stable. "The stakes at Alexandra Park are great and getting better and that has been huge for us, and other trainers," she told the Herald. "And there are plenty of trotting races which is crucial for us because that is what we target. "We decided to concentrate on them because not only do we have a lot of experience with them but we don't get the money to go to the yearling sales and buy well-bred pacing yearlings. With the trotters we also don't have to race the biggest, most powerful stables as often as we would with pacers." Although Wallis and Hackett have proud histories as trainers of trotters, both before they were a couple and since, they have also had top pacers such as Sly Flyin, Waitfornoone and, in Hackett's case, even Gypsy Vance decades ago. "But we would be happy to only train trotters these days, even though the only pacer we have at the moment, Like A Wildfire, is a really nice horse in the making. "With 37 trotting wins and nearly $500,000 in stakes this season we feel like we have made the right decision." Part of their support base are South Island owners looking at the smaller fields and bigger stakes for trotters at Alexandra Park while other horses are sent to their beach training environment almost as a last resort. "We do actually have a jog track but all the fast work is done on the beach and that suits a lot of horses." Tonight the stable take their only pacing winner for the season, Like A Wildfire, to race five (which he can win) but have more favoured chances in the three trotting races. "I think Jansson is the best of our chances in race four because he likes the 2200m," she explains. Madhubala will be among the favourites for race seven but Wallis is not excited by her 40m handicap over 2200m, even though the race lacks many rivals with bright futures. The last race tonight sees the highly-talented Mr Good And Evil up against exciting three-year-old Sundees Son and Wallis is in two minds over the outcome of the event. "I think Mr Good And Evil is getting better all the time and he has real speed so I could see him ending up an open class horse. "But the way Sundees Son went last Friday he is going to be really hard to beat, so it might come down to manners." As for the new season, Wallis says she and Hackett are looking to maintain around 20 horses but are also hoping Monte (saddle trots) get tote status in New Zealand, at least as a starting point. "I think they can add something different to some meetings and we have found they help some horses re-focus and come back better for normal races after we have given then a Monte trial or non-tote. "So I'd love to see them given a chance."   Michael Guerin

One of New Zealand’s most promising trotters has been bought by one of the legends of the industry just days out from the Harness Jewels. Which means Oscar Bonavena will join the All Stars army for Saturday’s massive meeting at Cambridge. After having looked an outstanding talent in just two start for trainer Phil Williamson the two-year-old colt was sold to former Kiwi now US-based trainer Chris Ryder and the godfather of New Zealand harness racing Roy Purdon. Roy’s son Mark will be the new trainer, with partner Natalie Rasmussen to drive Oscar Bonavena on Saturday in the $125,000 two-year-old trot. “He is a lovely colt and I was very impressed at Addington last start when he finished second to our other horse, Enhance Your Calm,” said Purdon.  “So we are thrilled to get him for Chris and of course for Dad.” While no trainer likes to see a horse as good as Oscar Bonavena leave the stable, Williamson was all smiles yesterday.  “It is a good sale and I hope he turns out to be a champion for them,” said Williamson.  “It is a very good price, which it needed to be as we had a lot of interest in the horse.  “And obviously he is going to a great home.”  Williamson got a kick out of Roy Purdon taking a half share in the son of Majestic Son after he came out to watch Mark trial Oscar Bonavena on Monday.  “I said to Mark at the time, you are not bad having a bloke like him (Roy) come and give you a second opinion.  “But I am thrilled Roy got a share in him, he is the legend after all.”  Usually any horse joining the All Stars days before a group one race would shorten dramatically in the market but with Williamson one of the most highly regarded trainers of trotters in this part of the world, any great price slash for Oscar Bonavena would be an over-reaction. Michael Guerin

A new trotting race for three year old fillies has been programmed in March - a first for Southland. Sponsored by Haras des Trotteurs, the $20,000 Southland Trotting Oaks will be run over 2200 metres from behind the mobile at the Northern Southland Trotting Club meeting at Ascot Park on Saturday 10th March. The race is two weeks prior to the Group Two New Zealand Trotting Oaks. "Southland is a good fit for the race. It's a very strong standardbred nursery. Pat (Haras des Trotteurs principle Pat Driscoll) was very keen to develop and support fillies races. You also get good support as a sponsor in Southland. They appreciated your support and you tend to get that back more so than other centres. I've dealt with Bill McDonald (President of the Northern Southland TC) previously and he's very big on making sure the sponsors get values for their sponsorship," said Haras des Trotteurs General Manager Jonathan McNeil.     The race will also be actively promoted by the New Zealand Standardbred Breeders who are keen to promote what has become the 'growing gait' in New Zealand harness. McNeil says there are other initatives which make trotting a significant part of the future of the industry here. "The main focus of the operation is to grow the fillies races. We're involved in the trotting side of the Sires Stakes now. A part of that agreement was that the Sires Stakes Board look at developing a trotting fillies series for the Sires Stakes."   He says that there are about 200-250 trotting fillies bred every year and if owners are presented with races like the Southland Trotting Oaks, then that will help grow the industry. "If we can develop our trotting horses to a higher level and go forward it opens up a bit of a market. It's a long way from that at the moment but if we could produce the same world class trotters as we do pacers it would be great." He says the Australians are also looking at ways to generate strong overseas revenue from trotting.  "Every Monday night at Melton they make the last races trotting races. They're beamed into France lunch time Sunday. There's a million dollar turnover on those races from France. From a Haras de Trottuers point of view, once we start getting more horses with French sire lines, the French are going to recognise the pedigrees so you'll end up growing the market." Haras des Trotteurs Principal Pat Driscoll is also keen to look at sending young trotting fillies over to New Zealand to help support the cause.  "He's not afraid to send them over there and race them but only if it works. Right horses at the right time. You can't just go over there for one race. You need a few options if you have a bad day." Hara des Trotteurs stand eleven trotting stallions and the one McNeil is most excited about is Used To Me the first French Group winner to stand in Australasia. He only has a small first season crop but they look very promising.  "He had two starts here in Australia as well for two wins. Of this twenty two years old Anton's (Yabby Dam Farms trainer Anton Golino) best two year old fillies are both by Used To Me. So we're really excited about that. Potentially this horse has got a lot of up side. He stands in the flesh here and we shipped him to New Zealand just to get him up and running."  Orlanda Vici is another French stallion McNeil is excited about. "His oldest New Zealand progeny have just turned two. The people that've got them are really liking them. There's only a few." So things are in place for the Southland Trotting Oaks to begin another chapter in the Southern Harness story.   Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson is one who should be keen to support the event. He has four qualified or race winners that are eligible to start - Kenny's Dream, Majestic Galleon, South Park and Our Foxy Lady.  And as for the day - it's added to an already mouth watering day of harness racing with other races including the three Group Three races - Southern Lights, Caduceus Club of Southland Two Year Old Fillies Mobile and Yaldhurst Hotel Northern Southland Cup. There's also the Super Nuggets Finals worth $20,000. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing 

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