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North Island based harness racing driver Philip Butcher has been fined $600 for directing abusive and threatening language to junior driver, Jack MacKinnon during a race at Alexandra Park on the 23rd February this year. Butcher was interviewed on 2 March in relation to both his driving tactics and the alleged comments. Mr MacKinnon repeated what he recalled being said to him and this contained ‘profane’ language with repeated use of the ‘F’ word. Mr MacKinnon also made reference to Mr Butcher threatening to ‘drop him and put him in a chaff sack’. Mr Butcher clarified this by saying what he had actually said was ‘I should drop you and they would be picking you up in a chaff sack, but I have too much respect for the other drivers’. The race in question   Full details of the inquiry below: NON RACEDAY INQUIRY IN THE MATTER OF The New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing BETWEEN RACING INTEGRITY UNIT Mr Steve Mulcay, Senior Stipendiary Steward Informant And Mr PHILLIP BUTCHER, Licensed Open Horseman HRNZ Respondent Rule 303(2) Information No. A10554 Judicial Committee: Mr AJ Godsalve, Chair – Mr AJ Dooley- Committee Member Appearing: Mr PA Butcher, Respondent Venue: Cambridge Raceway Date of Hearing: 18 March 2018 Date of Decision: 21 March 2018 DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE BACKGROUND This matter has its background in race 9 at the Auckland Harness meeting on 23rd February 2018. As a result of concerns held by the raceday Stipendiary Stewards over the way two horses (MAX PHACTOR and WRANGLER) had been driven, an investigation was undertaken. This culminated in the Information, the subject of this hearing, being submitted. Information A10554 alleges that: “On the 23rd day of February, at Auckland, Mr PA Butcher. Driving MAX PHACTOR (in race 9) committed a breach of Rule 303(2), in that he misconducted himself by directing abusive and threatening language to Junior Driver, J MacKinnon (driving WRANGLER) during and following the running of this event”. RULE 303(2) provides: - No person or body who holds a permit or licence under these Rules and no owner, trainer, breeder, stablehand, unlicensed apprentice or racing manager shall misconduct himself or fail to comply with any request, direction or instruction of any Stipendiary Steward, Racecourse Inspector, or Starter. Penalty Rule 1003 (1) provides: - A person who commits a breach of any Rule shall be liable to the following penalties (a) A fine not exceeding $10,000 and/or (b) Suspension from holding or obtaining a licence for a period not exceeding 12 months and/or (c) Disqualification for a period not exceeding 12 months. Plea At the commencement of this hearing the relevant Rule was read to Mr Butcher by the Chairman. Mr Butcher acknowledged that he understood the Rule and confirmed that he admitted the breach. Summary of Facts Mr Mulcay submitted a written Summary of Facts, as follows: 1. Stewards had concerns with the respective driving tactics adopted by J MacKinnon (WRANGLER) and P Butcher (MAX PHACTOR) during the running of this race. (Race 9, Auckland Trotting Club 23rd February 2018). 2. Driver J MacKinnon was interviewed following the event with the assistance of trainer R Dunn, and during the course of the interview made reference to abusive and threatening comments made to him by Mr Butcher. 3. Driver P Butcher was interviewed on 2 March in relation to both his driving tactics and the alleged comments. Mr MacKinnon repeated what he recalled being said to him and this contained ‘profane’ language with repeated use of the ‘F’ word. Mr MacKinnon also made reference to Mr Butcher threatening to ‘drop him and put him in a chaff sack’. Mr Butcher clarified this by saying what he had actually said was ‘I should drop you and they would be picking you up in a chaff sack, but I have too much respect for the other drivers’. 4. Mr Butcher agreed with everything else that was stated by Mr MacKinnon. 5. Mr Butcher then apologised to Mr MacKinnon and Mr Dunn with the respective apologies being accepted (in the presence of the Stewards). 6. The matter was then adjourned to be given consideration. 7. Following consultation with the Chief Stipendiary Steward and General Manager of Stewards, and after receiving written permission from the Operations Manager, it was decided to issue Mr Butcher with a charge under Rule 303(2) and this information was given to him today by phone. Film - the films of the race in question were available and were narrated by Mr Mulcay. He identified the two horses concerned. WRANGLER was leading the race after drawing barrier 1. MAX PHACTOR had drawn 4. From about the 1500m mark to about the 1300m mark MAX PHACTOR challenged for the lead on the outside of WRANGLER. It was apparent that Mr MacKinnon had no intention of relinquishing the lead, in spite of Mr Butcher using some vigour to try to get MAX PHACTOR past WRANGLER. Mr Mulcay pointed out that from about the 1200m mark it was clear that Mr Butcher was directing ‘a lot’ of comment to Mr MacKinnon while still attempting to get past him. MAX PHACTOR eventually reached the lead when WRANGLER began to tire. Mr Mulcay noted that WRANGLER had finished last, some 20 lengths behind the field. MAX PHACTOR was beaten 4½ lengths. Mr Mulcay then confirmed that Stewards had interviewed Mr MacKinnon, and later Mr Butcher over their driving tactics and had been advised of the matters referred to earlier which resulted in this charge being laid against Mr Butcher. It transpired that the verbal attack by Mr Butcher on Mr MacKinnon had continued after the race when the horses were returning to the stabling area. The Committee asked Mr Mulcay to clarify Mr MacKinnon’s position when he was challenged by Mr Butcher, particularly any obligation he may have had to relinquish the lead. Mr Mulcay stated that Mr MacKinnon was not required to hand-up the lead to Mr Butcher. However, he referred to Rule 868(2), which relates to the obligation on drivers to take all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure their drive wins the race or obtains the best possible position. ‘Reasonable’ in this context could relate to drivers not engaging in ‘speed duels’ which may negate their chances at the finish. A discussion ensued where the Committee and Mr Mulcay confirmed that in their experience, drivers usually handed-up the lead when challenged in situations like this as it was often counter-productive to horses’ chances not to do so. Documents Mr Mulcay submitted in evidence a copy of a letter signed by the General Manager of the RIU dated 18 March 2018, in which authority is given for an Information to be lodged against Mr Butcher for breaching Rule 303(2). Mr Butcher Mr Butcher told the Committee that he apologised for the manner in which he had spoken to Mr MacKinnon. He said that he knew he shouldn’t have ‘done it’…that he was not in a ‘good space’ and that he was very disappointed with himself in that he was not a horrible person. Decision As Mr Butcher has admitted the breach we find that this charge is proved. Penalty Submissions Mr Mulcay submitted that Mr Butcher had never breached this Rule; that he had shown contrition; and that he had admitted this breach. He added that he considered that Mr Butcher’s behaviour bought the Industry into disrepute and added that the Stewards have a duty of care to ensure as much as possible that industry participants are provided a work place free from ‘bullying’. He added that he believed that an aggravating factor was that the behaviour complained of was prolonged and continued after the horses had pulled up at the end of the race. Mr Mulcay referred to an earlier prosecution (RIU v White) and stated that he considered a similar penalty was appropriate in this case. He said that if the Committee determined that a suspension was an appropriate penalty he believed it should be a 4 day suspension. He added that he believed Mr Butcher was likely to have 5 drives a day, and a 4 day suspension would result in him losing approximately 20 driving opportunities. Mr Mulcay said that in the case of a monetary penalty being imposed, Stewards submitted a fine of around $600 to be appropriate. Mr Butcher said again that he was ‘not in a good head space’ and would prefer a suspension as opposed to a fine. Penalty Discussion The JCA guidelines on penalty (2015) for Harness Racing do not list a starting point for the general charge of Misconduct. The starting point for general Misconduct under the Thoroughbred Racing guidelines is ‘fact dependant’. It can be therefore inferred that the starting point for general Misconduct for Harness Racing is also ‘fact dependant’. Previous matters which have been dealt with by various JCA Committees where language and/or threatening behaviour has been involved have in the main not been where a race was underway…mostly they have been where language has been directed at Officials, and/or other industry participants at times other than during competition. A serious charge in the Thoroughbred code (Jockey ‘W’) in 2015 involved threats and offensive language, including during a trial race, and ultimately led to a 12 month disqualification. We mention this to illustrate the seriousness of how this type of offending is viewed by racing Authorities, given the safety issues surrounding racing generally. Horseracing, either code, is at times dangerous and challenging, and participants should not be put at risk by threats from other drivers or riders. In 2009 another rider (Jockey ‘W’, not the person referred to above) was fined $2000 for using insulting and threatening language to another jockey in the weighing area after an inquiry. In 2017 driver ‘D’ was fined $850 after being charged with using offensive and insulting language to Officials while being interviewed about a raceday incident. Reasons for Penalty As stated above we approached this Penalty decision on the basis that there is no starting point, and penalties are ‘fact dependant’. We accept the fact that Mr Butcher has admitted the breach and has no prior history of any breaches under the general ‘Misconduct’ Rule. He has shown remorse. He made reference twice to the fact that he was ‘not in a good head space’ at present. That does not excuse his behaviour. Mr Butcher is a mature man and has been engaged in the Harness industry many years. We understand he also has employment outside the industry. Mr Mulcay has submitted that the Stewards’ preferred penalty involves a suspension of 4 days, which in his estimation could result in Mr Butcher not driving in around 20 races. The Committee finds difficulty in accepting that Mr Butcher would drive 5 times each raceday. Mr Butcher himself stated that he was not driving as often now as he has in the past. While he is a primary driver for one stable we are aware of, it is a fact that on some days he only drives once or twice. Judicial Committees are empowered to assess penalties on the basis that they are ‘meaningful’, i.e. that they will have a significant and appropriate impact on the offending party; and that they are seen to be meaningful to other industry participants, and the public at large. We therefore believe that to achieve a meaningful penalty we have to consider a fine. In assessing a penalty, we look at the mitigating and aggravating factors. Clearly the fact that Mr Butcher threatened physical harm to Mr MacKinnon is of real concern. It would be naive to think that drivers and jockeys don’t take issue with others during races when things ‘don’t go their way’. That is in the nature of competition. However, in this case Mr Butcher has gone past that and his threatening language to Mr MacKinnon cannot be condoned. It has to be said that Mr MacKinnon’s driving may have been a contributing factor, indeed the Stipendiary Stewards investigated the way in which both he and Mr Butcher drove their horses in that race. However, Mr Butcher is an experienced Open Horseman, while Mr MacKinnon is a Junior Driver and it is not unreasonable to expect a better standard of behaviour from Mr Butcher. The Committee therefore determined that this matter would be dealt with by way of a fine. We adopted a starting point of $800, and after taking into account Mr Butcher’s admission, his clear record, and his apparent contrition, arrived at a figure of a fine of $600. Penalty The Committee therefore imposed a fine of $600 on Mr Butcher. As this matter was heard on a raceday there was no order made in respect to costs either to the JCA or the RIU. Alan Godsalve   Harnesslink Media

Pukekohe harness racing trainer Ray Green has trained the quinella in the first heat of the NRM Sires Stakes Series at Cambridge Raceway last night. Breeders Crown winner King Of Swing led all the way in the hands of Philip Butcher to narrowly beat the Green trained stablemate Recco Lover by a short margin. The winner paced the 1700m journey in a 1-56.0 mile rate with a closing 800m in 56.0 and the final 400m in 27.1 seconds.  King Of Swing (Rocknroll Hanover - Twist And Twirl) and Recco Lover (Bettor's Delight - Castellina Lover) have both qualified for the $170,000 Group One Final at Addington on November 14. The Robert Dunn trained Alta Maestro, who was the TAB favourite in last nights race sat parked and faded to finish last. Tim Vince trained a double at last nights meeting when both Drover's Eyre and Romanite won their respective races.  Romanite won the amateur drivers race and paced a quick 1-57.4 mile rate when winning over 1700m in the hands of Sheree Wigg. The Art Official gelding zipped over his last 800m in 55.7 seconds to beat the Vince trained stablemate Curlimore. Drover's Eyre led all the way when winning the highest rated race of the night for junior driver Jack McKinnon. The Falcon Seelster eight year old was having his 87th start, but showed there was still some pep left in his legs with a 56.4 closing 800m off the back of a 2-01.3 mile rate for the standing start 2200m. King Of Swing winning last night Harnesslink Media

Look for a form reversal from the Matthew Pemberton trained Realmein in the feature trot at Alexandra Park tonight. The Patumahoe horseman said the 8-year-old Real Desire – Cullermein gelding took an extra week to recover from a hard Rowe Cup run on April 28, where he copped the awkward nine draw. “It’s just going to be nice for once to race the opposition on even terms. It can be a bit demoralising having to start him week in and week out from long marks,” Pemberton said. In fact his Rowe Cup run aside (14th), Realmein has started from 40m, 30m and 30m in his last three starts. “The week before the Rowe Cup he looked and felt a million dollars, but the run took it out of him and he’s needed till now to recover. “He’s back to where I want him to be now. Back to his old self. He’s ready to run a race in conditions that finally suit him,” Pemberton said. Regular pilot, Philip Butcher will drive Realmein from gate six (of six) in the $14,999 Riordan & West Mobile for the R75 to R95 trotters. Realmein is the highest ranked trotter in the field with a R95 rating - seven more than K D Hall (5). Realmein has won 13 of his 81 starts ($196,451) - 10 of which have been at Alexandra Park, including one from behind the mobile arm. "The small field will help, but in saying that he is the fastest horse from his previous back marks in the field. "You can never be too confident in racing, but he's ready for this," Pemberton said. Toughest for Realmein to beat will be the Robert Dunn trained and Maurice McKendry driven Yagunnakissmeornot. The 5-year-old brown Love You mare recorded a nice second behind Gentleman Sir on the same track a fortnight. Meanwhile the pacing feature - the $14,999 Marlin Transport Mobile for the R67 to R76 pacers should see the Logan Hollis & Shane Robertson trained and Philip Butcher driven Big Mach make it three wins in a row. The 3-year-old Mach Three gelding, who has drawn five (of eight) tonight, was stylish when winning from gate nine here a fortnight ago. That victory came a month after scoring from gate three. Don't discount the Robbie Hughes trained and Ben Butcher (j) driven Red Magic from the luxury one draw. Duane Ranger

Scott Dickson is one of the most humble horsemen you could ever meet, but even before the races he thought both of his pacers could go close in last night’s (Thursday) Wairarapa Cup at Manawatu Raceway. “I thought Marshal Star could win and Ralph Elliott could go close. They are the best two of the eight or so I work. Both were in peak condition,” the Hunterville trainer said. The Philip Butcher driven $3.60 favourite Marshal Star had one-and-a-quarter lengths to spare over his stablemate, the Dickson driven Ralph Elliott in the $12,000 Post office Hotel Pahiatua Wairarapa Cup. “I thought the other fella was good enough to come off my back and he did exactly that. Marshall Star has probably raced himself out of that grade now meaning we might have to head to Cambridge with him. I’d also start him at Alexandra Park if they staged their Winter Grass Series again. “As for the other fella, he’ll line up again at Manawatu in a couple of weeks,” Dickson said. Last night’s Wairarapa Cup was Dickson’s first Country Cup since he trained and drove All The Way to win the 2010 Wanganui Cup. "It was a very satisfying feeling to run one-two. That's my first Country Cup quinella and I'm very proud of them both. It was a nice drive by Phil," Dickson said. Marshal Star and Ralph Elliot both started from the 10m back-mark in last night's Cup. At the bell Ralph Elliot led while Marshal Star was in the one-one. In the lane Marshall Star simply had too much acceleration to win going away. He paced the 2500m stand in 3:13.1 (mile rate 2:04.2) with final 800m and 400m sectionals of 59.5 and 29.5. It was the 6-year-old Badlands Hanover gelding's ninth win in 60 starts. He's also placed 11 times and banked $61,413 in stakes. The former South Islander won six races in the Mainland before coming north. Last night's victory was his second at Manawatu Raceway. Dickson is now just one win away from achieving his best season since taking out his trainer's licence in 2002. He has so far trained seven winners in 2016-2017. All up he's conditioned 63 winners from 681 starters and banked $385,314. Dickson has also driven 147 winners ($912,474) since 1997. Dickson and his partner Lydia Pickford live just 63km from Manawatu Raceway. "Wairarapa is just over the hill. Even though Palmerston North is our home track, it's nice to win a near-by Cup. To run second as well is even better," Dickson said. The couple farm dairy and beef cattle in Hunterville and get up at 5am to muck out the horse boxes, then between 6-6.30am they start milking and finish around 8am. Breakfast follows, then more training or travelling, with their day finishing at 10 or 11pm. Dickson is originally from Mid Canterbury. He has trained 60 winners from 668 starters since 2002. he's also placed 158 times and banked $363,284 in career stakes. “I still love training and driving but being a farmer keeps you busier than ever. I do know the three I’m bring to the races tomorrow can all win. Dickson and Pickford own Marshal Star. He was bred by Graham Pearson. The last 11 winners of the Wairarapa Cup (with trainers and drivers) have been: 2016: The Paul Chalklen trained Mischief Maker (Kyle Marshall). 2015:The Geoff Small trained The Bucket List (David Butcher). 2014: The Brent Mangos trained and driven Major Star. 2013: The Jim Curtin trained and driven Suu Kyi. 2012: The Andrew & Lyn Neal trained Delight Brigade (Todd Mitchell). 2011: The Stephen Doody trained River Field (Jim Curtin). 2010: The Brent Lilley trained His Honour (Josh Dickie). 2009: The Brent Lilley trained Flyin Interstate (Jay Abernethy). 2008: The Geoff Small trained Victory Spirit (David Butcher). 2007: The Kevin Smith trained Make It Real (Tony Shaw). 2006: The Brian Fleming trained Wicklow Express (Phil Fleming).   Duane Ranger

Bettor Spirits is the Palmerston North City Gold Cup champion for 2017, but make the most of him now before he crosses the ditch in the winter. The son of Bettor's Delight justified his $2.80 favouritism in the $14,000 feature event for the up to R90 rated pacers at Manawatu Raceway last Friday, but his Cambridge trainer Mike Berger, said he was now running out of options for the underrated 5-year-old. “The handicapping system has meant he’s virtually reached his mark now, and to be fair the races for him here are now few and far between. “The main target for him now is the (North island) Country Cups Final at Cambridge on Anzac Day and then we will take it from there. We have a share in him. He might bowl around in the winter here, but I will talk to the other owners and take it from there,” Berger said. “I think he would make a lot more money off even marks in Australia,” he added. Bettor Spirits started from seven on the front-line and driver Philip Butcher rushed him out of the gate early to lead after 200 metres. The talented brown entire was then headed in the home straight by Imajollywally and Arna Donnelly, but fought back gamely to win the 2500m mobile by a head in 3:08.1 (mile rate 2:01 even) - and last 800m and 400m in 60.2 and 29 flat. It was the 5-year-old's 14th win in 67 starts. He's also placed 15 times and now won just over $212,500 in stakes. “I really enjoyed the way he lifted himself off the canvas to fight back and win on Friday. He’s never been up there with the best of his age, but he hasn’t been far away. “I think he’s very much underrated and it was nice to see him get a start off the front the other night. Not many horses win $200,000. We only paid $28,000 for him,” Berger said. Bettor Spirits might not have won a Group race but bettor Spirits has placed in two Gorp Ones - the Cardigan Bay/Young Guns Final and the Harness Jewels Emerald Final - both in 2014. The entire also placed in last year's Group Three Kumeu Founders Cup. "He's been a good horse to me. He's a lovely gaited pacer and has been well looked after by Phil in his races. That's what I like about Phil. He doesn't always get the best horses to drive but they always come through their races unscathed when he's aboard. "He really looks after them and he's a valuable part of our team on race-day," Berger said. Berger said he was encouraged by Bettor Spirits’ latest triumph. “He needed that win after racing in better quality fields at Alexandra Park and Cambridge recently. I think that race will give him the confidence he needs going into the Country Cups Final. “He’s a solid horse now and needs the work into him, so I think I will give him one more race before Anzac Day,” Berger said. Bettor Spirits is the fifth of 10 foals out of the maiden In The Pocket - Spirit Of Bethlehem (Soky's Atom) mare, Spirit Of Eros. He was bred by Woodlands Stud and is owned by Berger’s wife Brenda, Mary Corboy (Howick), Glen Rowe (Featherston), and Queenslander, Tracey Cort. Meanwhile, the Geoff Small trained Father Frank and the Doug Gale trained Black Chevron (Bettor's Delight - Waldheim Rainship) were the only horses to win on both days of the Manawatu meeting. They have now won three and two races respectively. Duane Ranger

Arna Donnelly has three chances of repeating her Stratford Cup success of two years ago when Eldolar (4), No Way Else (7) and Hudy Haxwell (9) will line up in Sunday’s grass track feature. The $10,000 Quinton Oakes Builders Stratford Cup for the R60 and faster pacers has attracted 10 starters. Donnelly rated Eldolar - the horse that cost just a dollar - as the pick of her trio. "The 10 metre handicap won't bother him in what appears to be a weaker field than Thursday's Taranaki Cup. "He acquitted himself very well in that race and got held up at a vital stage in the straight. I was delighted with his fourth. This is easier but he will need a good run to get over the top of them," Donnelly said. The Cambridge trainer said she probably wouldn't be driving in the race, instead offering the drives to Ky​le Marshall (Eldolar), Phil Butcher (No Way Else) and Scott Phelan (Hudy Haxwell). "Kyle drove Eldolar the way I wanted on Thursday and is driving well. I'll save my drive for Imajollywally in the last. "He can win race eight, but so can stablemate Zakspatrol (Phelan)," said Donnelly. Donnelly trained and drove Ideal Success to win the 2015 Stratford Cup in3:28.2. The race record for the 2600m stand is held by the Todd Mitchell trained and driven Sound Of Thunder, who stopped the clock in 3:25 flat eight years ago. No Way Else, who also starts on the same 10m handicap as Eldolar, won three starts ago in a R56-R73 junior drivers event at Cambridge Raceway, but his form has tapered off since then. Like No way Else, Hudy Haxwell is having his first start at Stratford. He has missed a cheque in his last two starts but has placed on the grass previously. Up until two starts ago his form-line read 3343. “I just like the way Eldolar is going at the moment and even though he hasn’t won a Cup this season he has gone huge, going from a maiden at the start of the season to winning four races since December,” Donnelly said. Eldolar, No way Else and Hudy Haxwell are rated R74, R72, and R79 respectively. The toughest for them to beat should be the Derek Balle trained and David Butcher driven Kenrick (R72), who was the third favourite in Thursday’s Taranaki Cup. The Donnelly cause is also assisted by the fact that Taranaki Cup winner Walkinshaw won’t be lining up the Sunday’s discretionary handicap. Past winners of the Stratford Cup have been: 2016: McRoyal (3:34.4) - Driven by Todd Mitchell and trained by Dave & Clare McGowan. 2015: Ideal Success (3:28.2) - Driven and trained by Arna Donnelly. 2014: Randalstown (3:38.3) - Driven by Phil Butcher and trained by Tim Hall. 2013: Tyler Maguire (3:33.0) - Driven by Kyle Marshall (j) and trained by David Marshall. 2012: Murphy Maguire (3:34.4) - Driven by David Butcher and trained by IanSmall 2011: Another Impact (3:33.6) - Driven by Logan Hollis and trained by Dave & Clare McGowan. 2010: Family Spirit (3:30.8) - Driven by Phil Butcher and trained by Todd Mitchell. 2009: Sound Of Thunder (3:25.0) - Driven and trained by Todd Mitchell. 2008: Scherger Rein (3:29.4) - Driven by Maurice McKendry and trained by Sean McCaffrey. 2007: Miss Abigail (3:26.2) - Driven by David Butcher and trained by Colin Butler. 2006: Southern Raider (3:31.0) - Driven by David Butcher and trained by Geoff Small. Duane Ranger

Cambridge reinsman Philip Butcher will be looking to claim his third Tauranga Grass Cup in six years when he drives Bettor Spirits at Gate Pa on Sunday. The $10,000 Gartshore Group Tauranga Grass Cup for the R60 to R100 pacers, is the sixth race of 11, in this year's North Island Country Cups Series. It is also the first time Harness Racing Waikato will host the meeting after the Bay Of Plenty Harness Racing Club amalgamated with HRW late last year. Butcher believes the Mike Berger trained Bettor Spirits, who is the highest rated pacer (R95) in the eight-horse field, can win the 3000m standing start event. “Even though it will be his first start on the grass and over the distance, he does have immense speed if they go slow, and with only seven others in the race he should be handy, even from his 40m handicap. “He’s been racing against some of the best in the city in recent starts and if things went his way he should be too good. I really like his chances,” Butcher said. Butcher said he really enjoyed driving at Gate Pa after winning the race in 2012 behind the Geoff Small trained Zenola Seelster and then again in 2015 behind the Small trained The Bucket List. “I really love racing on the grass. It’s a lot more relaxed and a real picnic atmosphere. You can drive them a little bit different than when you do on the grit and shell,” The Cambridge driver said. He said Berger had wondered whether Bettor Spirits would get the 3000m, but Butcher believed he would. “He’s won over 2700m and I will drive him a bit kinder because of Mike’s concerns. But he’s a lovely horse and if he’s on song then he should be a bit too smart for this field,” Butcher said. “I just hope they don’t go too hard,” he added. North Island Country Cups joint points leader, Full Speed Ahead (R68), who won the Rotorua Grass Cup two starts back, will be tough for Bettor Spirits to beat. Mo Casino (R70), who has also been a model of consistency, also rates highly from his luxury two draw. None of the eight starters in the Tauranga Grass Cup have won at Gate Pa. Current points in the North Island Country Cups Series for 2017 are: Full Speed Ahead 13, Pay Me Visa 13, Sir Richie 12, Everything 10, Fleeting Grin 10, Joanednobettor 10, Beyond The Silence 7, Extra Guinness 5, Imajollywally 5, Mo Casino 5, Dikerry 3, Eldolar 3, Hudy Haxwell 3, Jonah Jones 2, The Tracker 2, Franco Lennox 1, Minstrel Boy 1. Past Tauranga Grass Cup (with driver and trainers) winners: 2016: Beyond The Silence, 10m, Lyn Neal, Andrew & Lyn Neal. 2015: The Bucket List, fr, Phil Butcher, Geoff Small. 2014: Kippenberger, 10m, Josh Dickie, John & Josh Dickie. 2013: Lets Elope, 10m, Maurice McKendry, Frank Cooney & Tate Hopkins. 2012: Zenola Seelster, Phil Butcher, Ian Small. 2011: Pure Power, 10m, Nicola Molander, Dave & Clare McGowan. 2010: Abandoned. 2009: Greg Brydon, fr, Matthew White, Kevin Smith. 2008: Zenad, 10m, David Butcher, Geoff Small. 2007: Tuffery, 30m, Peter Ferguson, Gareth Dixon. 2006: Jag Star, U1 35m, Gene Robb, Derek Balle. North Island Country Cups races remaining in 2017: Manawatu Cup - February 9; Wanganui Cup February 12; Taranaki Cup - March 2; Stratford Cup March 5; Palmerston North Festival Gold Cup - March 31. Duane Ranger

There are two North Island harness racing meetings on Friday and Saturday this week, starting with the Harness Racing Waikato meeting at Cambridge Raceway this Friday night. Just 63 nominations have been accepted. Mike Berger has just two horses lining up at Cambridge and has a royal chance of running one-and-two in the feature event – the $9,000 Kiwi Bus Builders Handicap for the R66 and faster pacers. Lusty Mac (R83) and Phil Butcher will start from 10m behind while stablemate Bettor Spirits (R96) and Andre Poutama will start from the 40m back-mark. Berger said there wasn’t much between them. “They are the only two from my barn that will line up on Friday. Lusty Mac is still on the way back and has a 30 metre head-start on my other fella (Bettor Spirits). I wouldn’t want to lean either way, but I have always had a lot of time for Lusty Mac. “She’s five now, the same as Bettor Spirits. Hopefully this might be the year she stands up because I have no doubt that she has got a lot of ability,” Berger said. The Cambridge trainer said Lusty Mac will be having her fourth start back since heading to the spelling paddock in early June. On June 4 she was fourth favourite and finished 11th in Group One $150,000 Diamond for the 4-year-old mares. “She’s the type of horse who gets better with racing. If she steps, and I think she will, then she will might be a bit too strong for the other guy to catch,” Berger said. “We are still to see the best of her,” he added. Three of Lusty Mac’s seven wins have come at Cambridge and she has placed twice in two of her three stands. She has also placed once from two starts over the 2700m stand. Berger said Bettor Spirits would relish the drop in class again after winning a seven-horse R66 and faster field from his 30m handicap by a neck at Cambridge last Friday. He was the $5 third favourite. “He has been racing against the top-liners like Lazarus and Chase The Dream and he had to go well last start after those tough assignments. “He won well and he should step up again on Friday. Andre (Poutama) drove him a treat that night and he will stay with him,” said Berger. “He’s had a lot of hard racing so he is race fit and can win off his mark,” he added. Bettor Spirits has won 13 races, four from a stand, and three over the distance. “Phil knows him real well and will give him every chance again, but remember Lusty Mac doesn’t have to improve much to be a threat,” Berger said. The Rod Mackenzie trained Fizzi Lizzie could be the fly in the ointment for Berger. The 6-year-old McArdle mare has won four of her last six starts, and was a nice second behind Lola Jones at Cambridge on December 30. Five of her seven wins have been on the track. The Steven Reid trained Mo Casino can’t be dismissed either. He raced against New Zealand record holder Vincent prior to finishing second at behind Full Speed Ahead at Rotorua last Sunday. He looked a winning chance 100m from home, but put in a wee skip which cost him victory.   Duane Ranger

The big gentle giant who doesn’t win them out of turn has rewarded trainer Jason Cossey for the second time in 21 months. That was the last time Megatron won for his Stratford conditioner and co-owner, Cossey. That was at the Wairarapa Harness Racing Club’s meeting in October 2015. Yesterday (Sunday) the duo and driver Philip Butcher combined to score at the Hawera Harness Racing Club’s grass track meeting. There were 11 horses in the $7,000 Conan Rowlands Contractor Mobile for the up to 47 rated pacers. Megatron was the 11th favourite and paid $32.40 to win. "I didn't even know where he was until about the 200 metres. That's when the colours came into view. Prior to that I didn't really know where to look. "It was a very pleasant surprise to see him loom up outside Cut the Cards and then get her measure short of the line. I’m still celebrating,” the Taranaki dairy farmer said a couple of hours after the race. “It’s certainly a better feeling than Megatron’s eighth at New Plymouth on Thursday,” he added. Butcher had Megatron in third place early and then in the one-one down the back straight. In the straight Megatron and Cut The Cards left their nine opponents to it with the former out-staying the latter by half a length. Megatron paced the 1900m mobile in 2:29.1 (mile rate 2:06.3) with final 800m and 400m sectionals of 63.4 and 31.6. It was the 7-year-old son of Lis Mara and Miss Operative's third win in 54 starts. He is owned by Cossey and his father Spencer. David Kaa trained him to his first win in March 2013. "He's just a lovely big gentle giant. He's the sort of horse any trainer would love to have around the stable. Although he'll never be a star he's a just a nice horse to work with," Cossey said. Cossey said it was a thrill to be on-track with his father and watch the big gelding win. “I’m usually milking cows. This is the first time I’ve seen him win. I think I’ll start him next at the Kapiti meeting,” 45-year-old Cossey said. Cossey has two horses in work - the other a 2-year-old Ebony N Ivory - Elite Dash filly named Red River Dash. “I’ll always have a horse or two. Dad was the same. He has been involved in horses since his teens and basically I’ve followed suit. “I love harness racing. It’s provided me with some real happy times,” Cossey said. Cossey has now trained four winners since 2011. Megatron’s two wins aside, he conditioned McRobbie to win at the Kaipiti Coast meeting in January 2015. His first career win came via Rich Earl at Manawatu in November 2013. Farley Cossey drove both. Meanwhile, the Doug Gale trained Harry H was the only horse to win on both days of the Taranaki meetings. Peter Ferguson drove the Muscles Yankee gelding to win the opening event at New Plymouth and then yesterday Jay Abernethy drove the 4-year-old to win the second event at Hawera. In fact Abernethy had a profitable day at Hawera. He also drove the Gale trained Daenerys Stormborn to win the opening event. He also trained and drove the $2 favourite Collection to victory in the third race.   Duane Ranger

Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Which pretty much sums up the feature trot at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Realmein did the right thing by punters by justifying his favouritism for the 2200m standing start, breaking 2:50 and winning effortlessly after a confident Phil Butcher drive. The win was Realmein’s first since January last year, when he won in Australia when being campaigned by Tim Butt, with his last win for long-time trainer Matt Pemberton being November 2014, so almost two years ago. But what most punters who saw Realmein down Charlemagne on Friday night won’t know is that the closest he had gone to winning a race in the last 18 months was a half head second in this very same race on the same weekend last year.  And on that occasion he was beaten by his quinellamate from Friday in Charlemagne. Adding to the oddity, the pair trotted their last 800m and 400m on Friday in almost identical sectionals to last season. The greatest difference though is that Pemberton spent most of last season trying to get the best out of Realmein, now he knows he has him back. “He got injured in Australia that campaigned when he galloped and took a chunk out of his front leg,” says Pemberton. “That really set him back, first of all getting him right and then secondly he is not a horse who likes it when things go wrong so getting him back mentally was a challenge. “But he seems great now. He is happy, relaxed and his manners are good so it special to have him back.” So much so that Pemberton and his patient bunch of owners are planning a southern assault, which could start as soon as next Friday at Addington. “We are keen to give him his crack down there so we will head down this week and he will be stabled with Bruce Hutton. “The long term aim is the Dominion and we are not saying he can beat a horse like Monbet but if he races up to his best I think he can get money in those races. “And he seems good behind the mobile at the moment, he ran second in a mobile the start before this, so that gives us some other options.” Realmein had competition for the win of the night on Friday from comeback mare Start Dreaming, who was electrifying in the main pace. Beautifully handled by trainer Barry Purdon, she sat in the one-one for the last lap before blasting down the middle of the straight to win going away. It was impressive stuff from the daughter of American Ideal having her first start since a luckless fifth in the Ladyship Mile at Menangle on February 28. But as excellent as the win looked to the eye, it was the stopwatch which really cemented Start Dreaming as the real deal, with the 53.7 second official last 800m one of the fastest ever recorded in New Zealand and Start Dreaming came out of the one-one so must have clocked 53.5, all of that off the markers. Purdon has always had a huge opinion of Start Dreaming but while she will be given her chance against the better pacers in the Spring Cup, there are no plans to head to the New Zealand Cup meeting. She will instead be aimed at the best mares races, with the first big aim the Queen Of Hearts in mid December. Friday night’s meeting was a nightmare for the teams involved in the Kiwi Punters Challenge, the first of three to be held at Alexandra Park over the next month, with a relatively small total good enough to win after a series of $45, $29 and $35 winners in early races smashing punters.   Michael Guerin

One of the greats of New Zealand harness racing doesn’t get to see his newest Alexandra Park winner very often. But you can rest assured, John Butcher is watching when Sunset Peak is winning. The former Canterbury trotting mare made it two wins from four starts in the north at Alexandra Park on Friday night, leading throughout as she did two starts ago. She is trained by John and his son David, although truth be known John doesn’t get down to the stables much anymore. The 80-year-old patriarch of one of New Zealand’s great racing families is suffering from lung problems which restrict how much physical activity he can undertake. But it doesn’t stop him watching races on television or keeping up with the industry going-ons via the computer. “He knows everything that goes on in the game, he is the one who tells me,” says David. “But with the lung problem he has got he doesn’t leave the house much. He is a lot better if he doesn’t over exert himself.”
 The father and son have been training in partnership for years but rarely have they had a trotter able to win twice so quickly at Alexandra Park. It helped that Sunset Peak came north well educated by owner Paul McDonald, a Canterbury builder who was training her himself. “I think Paul thought with winter coming and all the work he had on she was better off up here,” explains David. “So Craig Thornley, who had been driving her, put him on to us and she is a lovely horse to get hold of. “To win two so quickly at The Park doesn’t happen very often and you would think she will get down to being a 3:30 trotter (for 2700m stand). “And that is probably good enough to get her at least five wins because when they trot 3:30 off the front they are hard to catch. “The other night she trotted her last three quarters (1200ms) in about even time so the ability is there.”
 The Butchers have never been huge trainers of trotters but have two recent winners in that gait, the other being Larch, among the 9-10 horses they are training. “Soon half the horses at Alexandra Park will be trotters,” jokes Butcher about the new-found depth of the gait in the north. “And they are ideal for up here, races every week and for good money. “So to have a nice one right now is a real bonus.”
 Sunset Peak’s win capped a good night for the family as earlier David’s son Zac drove Atomic Betty to break her maiden and he can probably claim an unofficial training success with Hug The Wind in the $20,000 Smith And Partners Winter Cup. Zac has been in charge of the Barry Purdon stable while the boss has taken a small holiday and had Hug The Wind well enough for driver Brent Mangos to launch him as only Mangos does in the main pace. Aided by a brilliant beginning which gave him field position, Hug The Wind worked forward to get the lead and was way too good in a race where new stablemate New Years Jay also caught the eye when third, promoted from fourth. The favourite Shandale was given a good trip by trainer-driver Maurice McKendry but disappointed, suggesting his season may soon be over. Earlier in the night McKendry partnered the McCaffrey-Paynter trained Ideal Flipflop to a good win in a tough c1 race, the three-year-old pacing 2:40.3 for the 2200m on a chilly night, indicating there is plenty more in store for him. Michael Guerin

Philip Butcher’s driving skills may be at a career high but that will be tested by a couple of tricky handicaps in the biggest races at Alexandra Park tonight. Butcher has already surpassed his best ever season, having reined 48 winners, six clear of his previous best with nearly three months of the season to go. His strike rate has never been better, he is well on the way to eclipsing his best stakes haul and he sits eighth on the national premiership, second only to brother David among North Island drivers. But he faces two awkward assignments in the main pace and trot tonight, one he thinks he can overcome, one he is not so sure about. Butcher partners Realmein in the trot and although he faces a 30m backmark he comes out of last Friday’s Rowe Cup, having finished second to the greatly improved Blackguard’s Corner the start before. Butcher says the ace draw didn’t aid Realmein last Friday but he feels like a horse ready to win. “He is backing trotting at something like his best and this is a big drop for him,” said the Waikato horseman. “He is good enough to overcome that handicap in this field and I think he has a good chance.”
 Realmein is aided by the small field and the spread in the handicaps, which means he should be on the back of the bunch with two laps to go so tonight is his best chance of winning in a long time. Butcher partners Lusty Mac in the main pace, her first standing start, and one that comes on the back of two mysterious failures. She was an awesome winner on Auckland Cup night, March 11, but performed well below her best twice in the last fortnight, leaving Butcher scratching his head. “She is way better than that and we can’t work out why she failed like that,” he said. “This is a good chance for her to bounce back because even though it is her first stand start I reckon she will handle it. “But it is hard to be confident after how she has gone her last two.”
 Lusty Mac also comes up against one of the surprise packages of the northern season, Brydon Delight, who has gone from maiden to intermediate grade talent in just a few starts. The unheralded seven-year-old handled his first standing start well enough last Friday, albeit with no racing luck after, to suggest he is one of the better bets tonight. Tonight’s shortened programme means the $40,000 Pick6 starts on race three and Blazing Under Fire (race four) only needs to race up to his win last Friday to win again. The three-year-old has remained in the north to contest the Jewels and should only be better for his first couple of races right-handed. Meanwhile, three-year-old pacing Jewels favourite Chase The Dream contests a hot race at Kilmore tonight as he gets ready to return home from the WA Derby, with stablemate Waikiki Beach off to Newcastle tomorrow night. By Michael Guerin

The North Island has won the fifth annual ‘Island Of Origin’ series at Alexandra Park. The Peter Ferguson captained team of six beat the South Island by 25 points to 11 tonight (Friday August 29th). Points were awarded on a 3-2-1 basis for first, second, and third. Ferguson was rapt with the victory. “We didn’t come here to run second. It’s a great concept and I’m rapt to have won it. We all did our bit. 3-2 sounds very nice,” Fergie said. South Island captain Ricky May, who replaced the suspended Anthony Butt as skipper, enjoyed the night. “It’s a great concept especially with owners getting penalty free wins. We were going pretty good early on and then we faded a bit," May said. The North Island paid $1.80 for their third victory. “I really enjoyed it and am always proud to represent the South Island,” he added. Zac Butcher won the Individual title and paid $4.60 on the New Zealand TAB. He amassed eight points thanks to two wins and a second. Blair Orange (six points) finished second with two wins, while Tony Herlihy (MNZM) was third with five points from two seconds and a third. ‘The Postman’ aka Orange delivered in the first heat with a win behind the Andrew and Lyn Neal trained Lucky Fortune. Butcher then won the second heat behind the Stephen Doody trained Te Kawau, while Ferguson led the way with a third heat victory behind the Richard Brosnan trained Torbjorn. The fourth heat went to Orange and the Roni Lauren trained I Got Rhythm before Butcher won the fifth heat behind the Stewart Ashworth trained Machinegun Kelly. The last heat was won by Todd Mitchell and the Peter Scaife trained Rip Roaring. The teams were: North Island: Peter Ferguson (c), Tony Herlihy (MNZM), Todd Mitchell, Philip Butcher, Zac Butcher, and Scott Phelan. South Island: Ricky May (c), Gerard O’Reilly, Dexter Dunn, Blair Orange, Jim Curtin, and Mark Jones. The Island Of Origin winners: 2014: North Island. 2013: North Island. 2012: South Island. 2011: South Island. 2010: North Island. Courtesy Of Harness Racing New Zealand

The best harness racing drivers from the North and South Islands square off in six races at Alexandra Park on Friday night (August 29th). Named the Island Of Origin series, it has brought together the best drivers in New Zealand in a contest that decides bragging rights between the islands for the next twelve months. Points are scored on a 3 - 2 - 1 basis and judging by the fields and the spread of form horses to both camps, it should be a close and exciting contest. The South Island team is full of talent with last seasons leading driver Dexter Dunn joined by Ricky May, Mark Jones, Blair Orange, Gerald O'Reilly and Jimmy Curtin.. The North Island team is just as talented with the "Iceman" Tony Herlihy teaming up with Zac Butcher, Philip Butcher, Peter Ferguson, Todd Mitchell and Scott Phelan. Most home teams have an edge to start with and that was added to just a little bit by the fact that the Northern horsemen have 31 drives on Friday night compared to 30 for the Southern horsemen. All the races for the invited drivers are penalty free which is a nice bonus for the trainers and owners who have supported the series with their horses. The most interesting race for the invited drivers is undoubtedly race three, the C2 - C5 mobile pace over 2200 meters. Last seasons smart 3 year old Te Kawau looks hard to beat but a couple of real up and comers could prove troublesome with a run to suit. Royal Taz has won his last two for Tony Herlihy in the manner of a horse going places and from his handy draw looms as a genuine threat to the favourite. Pricillas Girl has run two slashers this time in and appeals as a value runner if the other two go to war at any stage. Six of the other runners in the field have either won or been placed at their last start so the favoured trio won't have it all their own way. The invited drivers creates real interest leading into Friday night and the Auckland Trotting Club should be applauded for bringing the concept to fruition. Harnesslink Media 

Harness racing can be a cruel game at times with some horses forever seeming to have bad luck. The Bucket List would have to be near the front of that queue in the last twelve months with a run of bad luck you wouldn't wish on anybody. After The Bucket List had won four of his first seven starts, he was thrown in the deep end against the best of his age group at three. While he performed really well, it was a steep learning curve for the Christian Cullen entire and seem to shake his confidence for a while. A nice run for second behind Pass Them By 1:53.6 ($175,081), beaten a ½ neck in a 1:57.3 mile rate over 2200 meters convinced trainer Geoff Small to send The Bucket List to Ashburton for the 3 year old Harness Jewels. Although never a winning chance in a race run in 1:50.6, The Bucket List went super to run 1:52.1, beating home two very smart horses in Franco Nelson 1:53.1 ($425,446) and Elios 1:55 ($213,676) in the process. Reappearing at Alexandra Park in January 2014, The Bucket List looked ready to fulfill his early potential with a brilliant win, coming from last at the 500 meter mark to beat a field containing Ideal Belle 1:52.2 (pl) ($176,409)  Maxim 1:56.6 $396,913) and Sky Major 1:52 ($411,002). He paced the 2200 meters in a brilliant 2:39.4, a mile rate of 1:56.6 with closing sectionals of 56.7 and 28.3 and looked set for a huge season. But from that point on, The Bucket List has hit one brick wall after another. Renowned for having a lethal sprint if saved for one run, the Bucket List has had a succession of runs where he was late getting clear, blocked for a run or pushed back at the wrong time. The luck had to change eventually and last night at Alexandra Park, The Bucket List got the kind of run he has been seeking for a while now. Leading early in the 2700 meters stand, driver Philip Butcher took a trail after 400 meters and soon after was three back on the inner as the smart 3 year old Regulus went to the front. Thats where he stayed until they turned for home where he angled for a run up the passing lane and burst through late to win going away by two lengths. He paced the 2700 from a stand in 3:27.8, a mile rate of 2:03.8 with smart closing sectionals of 56.7 and 27.6. It was his sixth lifetime win coupled with twelve placings which has seen him bank $76,945 in stakes to date. Now that his luck has turned, it wouldn't surprise anyone if The Bucket List strung a few wins together in the next few weeks. Harnesslink media  

Colin Butler would not have changed a thing at Alexandra Park last Saturday night (August 31). Friends always come before awards dinners. Butler had to abruptly leave Saturday night’s North Island Harness Racing Awards Dinner when his long-time mate Bruce Lloyd took crook. Butler had earlier driven the two hours from Cambridge to Kumeu pick-up Lloyd and then wheelchair him to the function at Alexandra Park. “Bruce’s health took a turn for the worse. We took him back to Kumeu just after 10pm. I had no idea I was up for an award. “I thought all the awards had been given out by then. Even if I did know I still would have taken Bruce home. Friends first. It’s always been that way. “It was an honour to get the award and I’m grateful but I’ve never really been very interested in awards. I don’t like the limelight – I like to dodge it. I only went to give my mate a good night out. My only concern was that my mate is happy and well,” Butler said. David Butcher accepted the Sir Lincoln at Lincoln Farms Racing Achievement award on behalf of Butler. It was Butler’s two consecutive Jewels victories with Charlemagne that ensured the Award. Butler, who said he was “70-plus” years of age, has had an emotional couple of years. “My wife Raelene was with me when I won my first Group One event at the Jewels at Cambridge. She died a year ago today (Monday September 2). I’ve just put her funeral notice in the local paper. Sadly she missed seeing Charlemagne and Philip Butcher win their second straight Jewels title at Ashburton. “There is not a day go by when I don’t think of her. Raelene was my rock. We had been married for more than 50 years. She owned more than 50 winners in her own right. I’m sure she would have been proud of the award,” the Cambridge horseman said. Butler said his association with Lloyd went back 40 years when he first started driving for him at Hutt Park. “We go back a long way. I couldn’t believe it when I got a text from a friend saying I had won an award and they wanted me to come back. I said I couldn’t – I was half way to Bruce’s place. It was a good night but there was no way I was staying there when my mate was tired and not feeling well,” Butler said. Butler has trained almost 200 winners and won just under $1m since the 1970s. His last two seasons have been his best winning just over $107,000 each year. Between 1979 and 2000 Butler won 574 winners from his 5,128 drives. He also placed 1,241 times for $2.73m in stakes. He said Charlemagne aside, his previous best horse was the DB Flying Fillies champion and eight-win El Patron mare, Yvette Bromac. “She won that race in 1981 at Alexandra Park. Before Charlemagne came along she was my best. My wife owned her and I drove her,” Butler said. By Duane Ranger Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand

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