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In what was a minor harness racing upset, Rock N Roll Heaven gelding A G’s White Socks has ruined an All Stars clean sweep by beating the favourite More The Bettor in yesterdays $90,000 Group 1 Easter Cup. The Purdon/Rasmussen team had looked on target for winning all six of the races they had starters in, until the Greg and Nina Hope trained A G’s White Socks charged down the centre of the track to claim a deserved win in the Addington feature race. Driver Ricky May said after the race that he always thought A G’s White Socks was suited to the extreme distance of 3200m. "He has gone well over the distance before in the Auckland Cup. " Today he really sprinted when I asked him to go and he picked More The Better Up easily," he said. A G’s White Socks paced the 3200m from a stand in 4-02.1 with a closing 800m in a sizzling 55.2 with the 400m in 27.1 seconds. More The Bettor stuck on well for second after trying to lead all the way and Tiger Thompson also battled on well for third after working hard mid-race. The Hope stable also picked up the 4& 5yo Trotting Championship when Enghien led for the last 800m and won easily with May in the sulky. A G’s White Socks winning the Easter Cup Harnesslink Media

Invercargill lawyer Murray Little was in the winners circle twice at the Wyndham harness racing meeting yesterday (Saturday) when two of the horses he owns and bred won their respective races. Betterthanbrie started the ball rolling in Race Two. She settled in the last group of runners after drawing barrier thirteen and improved three wide on the back of Thisexcusebetterbeit inside the last 700 metres. Driver Dexter Dunn brought the three year old wide into the straight and she let down strongly to beat Thisexcusebetterbeit by a length and a quarter with a half a length back to favourite Semiramide who was late getting clear.  The Betterthancheddar filly qualified as a two year old from Wayne Adams barn but is now trained by Paul 'Tank' Ellis at Oreti Beach. "She got a wee injury about four or five months ago. We turned her out and decided to put her on the beach which is quite good because I get to drive her on Saturdays and Sundays," said Little who owns the barn Ellis trains out of. Betterthanbrie is out of the nine win Holmes Hanover mare Suvarno Hanover which Little owns. "I've had her (Betterthanbrie) since she was weaned and I'm never going to sell her because she's the only filly I've got out of Suvarno Hanover." Little got into the family when be bought Mach Varno at the sales. "Then Ged Mooar rang me and said do you want to buy the mother in foal to Courage Under Fire. I bought her and I've been breeding from her ever since." The Courage Under Fire colt never raced but the next foal by Bettors Delight named Wannabet won three in New Zealand and another eight in Australia. He's paced a mile there in 1-53.9. Suvarno Hanover's next foal is Betterthanbrie while she also has an American Ideal two year old colt named Wannahavtime. "He's growing and going to be a big horse so we just tipped him out this week. Kirstin Barclay's got him and he was going really well on his second prep." Little also sold the mare's yearling colt by He's Watching at the recent Christchurch sale for $18,000. He thinks there's still improvement in Betterthanbrie judging from the way she's been running on in her previous starts and he says he'd love to start her in Invercargill at the end of next month.  "I'll talk to Tank but I'd love her to race in the Southland Oaks because her mum won it." Murray Little with stable helpers                      - Photo Bruce Stewart  Later in the day the talented Mach's Back returned to the winners circle after a horror run of noughts. He settled in the last group of horses early. With 1300 metres to run, driver Ricky May sent the four year old forward three wide. He got cover briefly from favourite Come Dance With Me which had followed him up. At the 400 these two horses got down to business and under the urgings of May, Mach's Back proved too good winning by a length and a quarter. The winning time was 2-56.3. "He had teeth problems and was crossfiring but they've got that sorted out," said Little prior to the win yesterday. Like Betterthanbrie he also bred Mach's Back which is by Mach Three out of Dream Angel a full-sister to high class mare One Dream which won eighteen races and nearly $900,000.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing   Betterthanbrie winning    Mach's Back winning  

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

Ameretto Sun somewhat of a grass and track specialist, could improve on his second in the Ordeal Trotting Cup at Addington.  Harness racing trainer Ken Ford has him primed to go close to winning todays Alabar DG Jones Banks Peninsular Trotting Cup at Motukarara Raceway. Ford has a good record in the race, winning it twice, with Midnight Invasion (2008) and Zachary Binz (2015). Zachary Binz who won on a bog track two years in the slowest time in the race history, is back again this year and will again be driven by Amanda Tomlinson, while Ameretto Sun will be driven by Sheree Tomlinson. Sheree Tomlinson and Ameretto Sun Destiny Jones who won the Ordeal Trotting Cup two weeks ago, will also be hard to beat in todays race. His grass track record is also solid with one win and three placings from six starts. Destiny Jones will be driven by Ricky May who won this race last year with Harrysul.  Master trainer of trotters Paul Nairn, has the race favourite Habibty Ivy in todays race.  Habibty Ivy blew the start of the Ordeal Trotting Cup and was pulled up by driver Blair Orange, but she does have a tidy grass track record and the punters have made her a hot favourite today on the FF win market at $1.70. Other good chances in the race are Belles Son, Arya and Pegusus Dream. The big mover on the FF win market today is Gore Bay in race five. TAB bookmaker Steve Richardson said  "they have really come for the Nigel McGrath first starter Gore Bay". "We opened him at $19.00 and the money came straight away, with some solid bets right down to his current price of $6.50." Trainer Nigel McGrath has a good record with three year old first starters on the track. The Motukarara track today is rated as "Dead" with overcast conditions. Banks Peninsular Trotting Cup History Year  Month   Distance Horse Hcap Owner   Driver Time   2016  Oct   2810m Harrysul 10m K R Gardner, R J Shaw   Ricky May 3-41.4   2015  Sep   2810m Zachary Binx Fr K B Ford, Mrs A J Tomlinson   Amanda Tomlinson 4-09.1   2014  Sep   2810m Clover Don 10m G K Stevenson, Mrs J A Stevenson   Robbie Holmes 3-40.7   2013  Sep   2810m Jaccka Justy Fr C F Smaill, Mrs A G Smaill   Jonny Cox 3-54.7   2012  Sep   2810m I Can Doosit 25m Breckon Racing Syndicate   Mark Purdon 3-42.4   2011  Oct   2810m Vulcan Fr Mrs J A Butt, D J McKenzie   Anthony Butt 3-37.5   2010  Oct   2810m Springbank Richard 20m R A Smith, Mrs D J Smith   Nathan Williamson 3-36.0   2009  Oct   2810m Springbank Richard 10m R A Smith, Mrs D J Smith   Nathan Williamson 3-45.4   2008  Oct   2810m Midnight Invasion Fr K B Ford, Mrs A J Tomlinson   Blair Orange 3-48.9   2007  Oct   2810m Power In Motion Fr F E Wall   Ricky May 3-51.1   2006  Oct   2785m Play On 10m P R Lamb   Craig Thornley 3-48.9   Harnesslink Media  

The field for todays PGG Wrightson Hannon Memorial at Oamaru has been reduced down to a field of seven, with the latest scratching of the Greg and Nina Hope trained Usain Colt, who has been sold to Australia.  Hope still has the current second favourite Seel The Deal engaged in the race. He is a big mover on the FF win fixed odds, caving in to $3.80 after opening longer than $5.00 on Thursday night. There is a lot of confidence in the Hope stable that Seel The Deal can go a cheeky race today, in preparation for the New Zealand Trotting Cup in November. Driver Ricky May is also quietly confident about the seven year old geldings chances and said "he could need the run without any racing, but I like him a lot in that race" Seel The Deal has been ticking along nicely at the trials and workouts. He ran slashing final sectionals at the Rangiora trials on the 13th September, running home in around 55 seconds for his last 800m in that Rangiora trial. Race rival Alta Orlando trained by Robert Dunn, zipped over his last 800m in a tick over 54 seconds in the same trial, also justifying his readiness for todays race.  The Graeme Anderson trained and Dexter Dunn driven Titian Banner is currently the warm favourite ($1.65 FF) to win the Hannon Memorial, after an easy win fresh up at Addington on the 1st September and then a good second placing to Have Faith In Me in last weekends New Brighton Cup. Seel The Deal and Alta Orlando in their latest trial   Robert Dunn also has the speedy Tuapeka Trick engaged today in Race 6 with John Dunn doing the driving. Tuapeka Trick was placed last season in the group three kindergarten stakes behind stable-mate The Brooklyn Brawler and has come back a stronger horse judging by his latest dominant win at the workouts. The well bred Bettor's Delight colt is raced by the Westview Racing Super17 Syndicate, many of whom are heading down to watch the race today.     Harnesslink Media

Top NZ harness racing trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen won the New Brighton Cup on Saturday with their speedy pacer Have Faith In Me. Have Faith In Me got home quickly from a nice spot on the outer to down an ex-stablemate Titan Banner and last year's Auckland Cup winner Dream About Me. The winner ran his last 800m in 55.2 with a closing 400m in 26.89 seconds, proving he is back to somewhere near his best. ____________________________ Blair Orange won four races over the weekend to move to twenty two wins for the season, nine wins clear of second place David Butcher. Orange won three races at Addington on Saturday and added another win at Methven yesterday behind the Nigel McGrath trained Goodlookin Chick. Last years drivers premiership winner Dexter Dunn is languishing back in the pack on three wins, after missing some early season racing while he was overseas at the World Drivers Championships.. ______________________________________________________________________________________ Destiny Jones has won this years Ordeal Trotting Cup for trainer Kevin Townley and driver Ricky May. Destiny Jones finished quickly from midfield on the outer to down last years winner Ameretto Sun by a length. The two favourites Habibti Ivy and Harriet Of Mot both blew their chances with early breaks shortly after the start. Destiny Jones (The Pres - Galleons Destiny) has now won eight races and $85,379 in stakes. She trotted the 2600m mobile in 3-16.1 with a closing 800m in 59.4 and 400m in 29.9 seconds. ______________________________________________________________________________________ Jonny Cox will train in partnership with Tim Butt from the beginning of December. Tim Butt is shifting most of his stable horses to Australia shortly and will be training from a 20-horse barn at Menangle, outside Sydney. Cox will be running the satelite stable here in New Zealand. The Tim Butt trained My Field Marshall won the Garrards Horse And Hound pace (Group 3) over 1609m at  Menangle on Saturday night in 1-51.9 _______________________________________________________________________________________ Canterbury amateur harness racing driver Ray Reekie was suspended for 2 1/2 years for driving in a manner which diminished his chances of winning a race at Addington on Saturday.  Of particular concern to the Stewards was his decision to maintain his challenge for the lead for such an extended period, after his initial challenge had been unsuccessful. After hearing the explanation tendered by Mr Reekie, Stewards issued him a charge under Rule 869(3)(g) in that he drove in a manner capable of diminishing Zakspatrol's chance of winning the race.  The JCA subsequently suspended Reekie's Amateur Horseman's licence from the conclusion of racing today up to and including 15th March 2020, a period of 2 1/2 years.   Harnesslink Media  

They’ve both won two races at Rangiora this season, but only one of either Thisismylastflight or Rocki Warrior can make it three in the past 12 months in today’s Rangiora Winter Cup. The duo are two of only five horses who have won at Rangiora Harness Racing Club meetings this season and are joined by; Witheze, Donegal Carrickfin and Run To Hide - none of whom are racing at today’s final meeting for the season. Tackling the $12,000 event today, the pair both have strong each way chances. Rocki Warrior hasn’t been seen at the races since the end of January, but the Denise Ottley trained pacer looked ready to resume with a big run at his most recent trial where he incidentally beat, Thisismylastflight. Three quarters of a length separated the pair and the big Washington VC gelding has the added advantage of drawing on the front line which suits his usually quick stand start manners. The win would also give his driver, Sam Ottley a good chance to push for overall driving honours at the Rangiora Harness Racing Club meetings. She’s driven seven winners at the club’s meetings, a tally bettered only by Ricky May (9) and Dexter Dunn (8). Gavin Smith is the other in contention with his seven winners as well. The mother and daughter Ottley combination have a chance earlier in the day as well with OK I’m Bad who was third in that same trial won by Rocki Warrior. Thisismylastflight hasn’t been seen other than that trial since running fourth to James Dean at Timaru at the start of the month, but the Steven McRae trained pacer has done a wonderful job in his short career. The Panspacificflight gelding has a big motor and Craig Thornley may elect to unleash it today. James Dean is a big chance in the Winter Cup based on his Timaru win for Leo O’Reilly while Cran Dalgety and Dexter Dunn have a strong chance from Alpha Rock. Greg and Nina Hope and Robert Dunn, who both train out at Woodend Beach, head into the meeting with six winners from the Rangiora Harness Racing Club’s season with Terry and Glenys Chmiel their closest opposition with four wins.   Matt Markham’s Rangiora Selections Race 1: Fiery Comet, Family Night, Sunrise Spur, Tehoro Nova Race 2: Boomer, Out Of Aces, Bicton, Vyndetta Race 3: Got A Beauty, Zakspatrol, Bevan’s Cullen, Northview Major Race 4: Tara Tuatia, Spondulicks, Admiral, Dance N Jewel Race 5: Shes’a Tricky Bridge, Eden Franco, Crackared, Sans Le Sou Race 6: Run Boy Run, OK I’m Bad, Takitimu Express, Den’s Legacy Race 7: James Dean, Alpha Rock, Rocki Warrior, Thisismlylastflight Race 8: Ygritte, Diana Harbour, Cuddly Jess, Rocknpop Race 9: Man Of Steel, Toll Gate, Take After Me, Ask Me Art   Best Bet: Fiery Comet (Race 1) Value: Ygritte (Race 8)

Ideally, a few more would be the perfect result, but even if Paul Court only trains one more winner this season he’ll be a happy man. In just his second season of solo training, the West Melton horseman has drawn level with his debut season tally of wins with 35 victories on the board and four weeks of racing still remaining. That should spell a new personal best by the time August rolls around and Court considers that mission accomplished. “You set out at the start of the season with the goal of going better than the season before,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have had a good season again, with some nice horses wearing the colours and doing the job out on the track.” After training in partnership with his father, Graham for seven seasons with close to 100 wins, the pressure was always going to be on the young trainer when he broke out on his own accord. But with 70 winners in his first two seasons and a strong team of horses around him, things are looking pretty bright. “It’s been good to be able to pick up where Dad and I left off in a way, we’d set things in motion and I’ve been able to carry it on which is great.” Incidentally, one of the finds of the season for Court was the horse who registered his 35th victory on Friday night at Addington. And he’s hoping that Malik isn’t finished either. The Somebeachsomewhere colt has now won four of his last five starts and is a horse on the rise. He beat a tidy field of intermediate grade pacers on Friday night showing some impressive qualities in the process. “He’s just getting better and better, I was a wee bit hesitant on Friday because we had taken him off the unruly, but he handled it really well and showed a bit of class against what I thought was a pretty good field. “He’s starting to stand up and show what he’s got now which is great, and the best part is that I think he will just keep getting better. “We’ll press on through the winter with him too, so hopefully he’s not finished.” The other leg of Court’s winning double on Friday night came from Beach Skipper, who took longer to win his first race than anticipated. He’d technically already won a race, but that was a dead-heat at Methven, so Friday’s victory was well overdue. And adding double the delight to the win, was the fact Court did the driving himself. Despite not driving often these days and preferring to leave that job to the likes of Blair Orange and Ricky May, Court has still managed to grab himself a win each season for the past 12 years from very limited opportunities. Matt Markham  

It is a bit like asking a parent which one of their kids they love more. So you can forgive trainer Greg Hope for taking an awfully long pause before answering what might be the question of the trotting season. Because the battle for Trotter of the Year as the annual awards in August will come down to a pair of horses -- both trained by Hope and his wife Nina -- who have had wildly contrasting seasons. In one corner is undoubtedly New Zealand’s best trotter Monbet, who only raced three times this season and won them all. More importantly two of those wins were of the highest quality, national records in both the Dominion and NZ Free-For-All during Cup week before niggles ruled him out for the season. In the other corner is his less talented, but in the contest of this season better performed, three-year-old stablemate Enghien, like Monbet a son of French stallion Love You. He has raced nine times, winning eight and only beaten in the other because he galloped. To add to his case he has won every race that matters, the two trotting Derbys, the Harness Jewels and the group two Sires’ Stakes as well as the Sales Series. His domination has been compete and utter and even though driver Ricky May couldn’t give him his head on Saturday because he wasn’t trotting faultlessly,he still won. Enghien’s season is far from finished, with two more group ones in Victoria on the horizon. “We are definitely heading there because there isn’t a lot for them as four-year-olds so we might as well take what we can get now,” said Hope. “So he will contest a Breeders Crown heat here at Addington, then go to the Victoria Derby in August and then Breeders Crown final at the end of that month.” Victory in either or both of those won’t aid Enghien’s bid for Trotter of the Year as the awards are voted on by the media before his Australian campaign begins. So the question will be: do three wins at the highest level, the last of them recorded by Monbet in November, trump eight wins from nine starts spread from the heat of December to the chill of June? “Its a tough question,” says Hope, who simply doesn’t want to answer it. “I mean, I think we all know Monbet is the best trotter in the country and Enghien isn’t in his class yet. “But I also suppose trotter of the year isn’t about the best horse but the best season. “If it was about the best horse then Monbet has to get it. But if it is about the best season then it is hard to argue with what Enghien has done.” Enghien’s win capped a remarkable last two seasons for the Hopes, with their future trainer and chief statistician son Ben telling Dad something he didn’t know. “After that win on Saturday we have now trained the winner at least once of all the major trotting races for young horses we had have a starter in for in the last couple of years. “That means the Derbys, the Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series and now all three Jewels. We needed the three-year-old Jewels because Monbet finished second in that so Enghien completed the set. “Ben keeps on top of these things so that’s kinda cool to have done that.” Hope says while the training is a family affair, some of the credit for their rapid rise to the top of trotting has to go to stallion Love You. “He has been huge for us and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.” Love You also sired Saturday’s two-year-old trot winner Paramount King and the runner-up in the four-year-old trot in Gentleman Sir. Monbet’s season: Three starts, three wins. * Two national records  Two group ones and a group three win. Enghien’s season: Nine starts, eight wins. One national record. Three group ones and one group two win. Michael Guerin  

Things were only ever going to get better for Ricky May yesterday at the Harness Jewels. The champion horseman had, what could best be described as, a bizarre start to the day after he was struck by a car when making his way onto the course. The Mid Canterbury local was knocked to the ground in the incident, but thankfully only suffered a tender wrist in the incident. After being checked by St John’s staff attending the meeting, May was cleared to fulfil his driving engagements for the day. “I was looking in the other direction and the car reversed back and hit me,” May said. “It wasn’t probably as bad as it sounds, but I guess you could say I was a bit lucky.” May shook off the jitters to produce a beautifully patient drive on hot-favourite, Enghien in the three-year-old Ruby and the outstanding gelding called on every inch of his brilliance to get past a game President Roydon. While the win might not have looked all that comfortable, for May it was really never in doubt. “I always felt like he was going to win the race, it was just a case of getting him past the line,” May said. “He is never going to be completely comfortable, but he trots through it. “There’s a fair motor there.” The win could see Enghien elevated to a position where he could potentially be in line for a Trotter of the Year Award at August’s Harness Racing Awards. That would make for back-to-back victories for Greg and Nina Hope with sons of Love You after they took the Award home last year with Monbet. Enghien’s victory was followed closely by the performance of Jewels day from the enigmatic Heaven Rocks. The monstrous pacer was simply stunning in his victory in the Four-Year-Old Emerald and drew his driver, and co-trainer, Natalie Rasmussen into making some pretty astounding comparisons. “He’s just so fast, like the only horse I’ve driven who is as fast as him is Black’s A Fake,” Rasmussen said. “When I asked him to run at the top of the straight, he just took off.” With only one Jewels win next to her name prior to yesterday, Rasmussen extended that tally to three with a victory on Spanish Armada also falling her way. Matt Markham  

Greg and Nina Hope wouldn’t have had too many concerns in signing off on Ricky May’s driving fee for his effort behind Enghien in the PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series Final last night. Because while horses winning is as much about the motor they possess, success should also be attributed to, and if often not, the person sitting behind and guiding them and in May’s case last night, it was great horsemanship. It was as clear as day for all in sundry to see that Enghien wasn’t handling the Addington bends as well as he should, and it was just as clear that it was May’s patient and kind hands that helped nurse him through those rough patches which ultimately won him the race. “I think the track was a bit hard for him” May said after the race. “He just wasn’t that comfortable on them as what he should be, he never trots them that well but he was a little worse than usual tonight.” While many will see it as a major flaw heading into the Harness Jewels in two weeks time, there was very little concern if any from the Hope camp. A few gear changes and the more roomy Ashburton bend should help sort the issues. “I’m not worried,” Greg Hope said. “It’s just minor things that we can sort I think. The main thing is that the motor is there.” While May’s drive drew plenty of plaudits there was also just as many for Mark Purdon for his effort on President Roydon who set the terms from the top and went down fighting. Purdon identified that Enghien wasn’t comfortable around the bends and did everything he could to try and ensure that his rival was hitting the bends at speed by holding the running line. In the end Enghien’s class, once balanced up in the straight, showed through and he won reasonably comfortably with May rather quiet in the sulky up the straight. The two bits of horsemanship drew plenty of praise on social media with former World Champion driver, Mark Jones weighing in on twitter to say that it was “true horsemanship from two of the best.” An hour later it was Brad Williamson who was earning the praise for his handling of the exciting Majestic Man who was simply stunning winning the Sires’ Stakes Final for the baby trotters. Trained by his father, Phil the excitement machine did some work after being balanced along early by Williamson and showed his staying potential with a bold effort to run past BJ Lidenny and the brave More Shades Of Gold who set the speed from the front. “I nearly lost him a few times around the first bend,” Brad said. “But after that he was great, he’s going to be a really good three-year-old but is doing a good job now.” Owned by the well-populated, Griffins Syndicate, most of whom were on hand last night to enjoy the win, Majestic Man gives Brad a great chance to follow in the footsteps of his brothers, Nathan and Matty and become a Jewels winning driver in two weeks time. Matt Markham

From a maiden pace on a Sunday afternoon to a $200,000 event on a premier Friday night might seem like worlds apart, but Nigel McGrath is hoping his latest find, Star Commander, is up to the challenge. The imposing son of Art Major has been long touted by his trainer as being a little bit better than average and showed with a rather effortless victory on Sunday at Rangiora that he’s got the necessary to mix it with the best two-year-old’s in the land. “I’ve always liked him, he’s got all the right signs of being a good horse,” McGrath said. “The improvement in him from his first run to Sunday was quite noticeable and hopefully he can improve again for this week.” This week’s assignment is the $200,000 is the PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Open Final at Listed level where he will have to square up with the well credentialed pacers Spankem, All You Need Is Faith, The Devil’s Own, Alta Maestro, Mach Shard and his talented stablemate, Aloka. “It’s a big jump up in class, but I think he’s good enough to be competitive,” McGrath said. A $56,000 purchase at the Christchurch Yearling Sales last year, Star Commander is the fourth foal of Group One winning mare, Susie Maguire. A daughter of Presidential Ball, she won the Caduceus Club Classic and the NZ Sires’ Stakes 2YO Fillies Championship at two and then won the Ladyship Stakes as a three-year-old and ran second to Lizzie Maguire in the 2YO Emerald at the inaugural running of the Harness Jewels at Ashburton in 2007. Third on debut behind Aloka and Ashley Locaz on Diamonds Day at Invercargill 10 days ago, a much more tractable and kind Star Commander showed up to Rangiora. “He got pretty keen down South, and in the end it might have taken it out of him and cost him finishing closer. “He didn’t really lose any ground on the two good ones, but more held his own. “So we made some changes to his gear during the week and they seemed to work.” Ricky May produced a confident drive on the favourite and put him into the race before taking cover and unleashing at the top of the straight where he cleared away to win by a comfortable one and half lengths. Star Commander stopped the clock in a slick 2.26.6 for the 2000 metres. “He was knocking off a bit there at the finish, so he had a bit in store which is always a good sign.” McGrath got mixed news when the draws were released for Friday night’s $200,000 event with Aloka drawing up well on the front line and Star Commander set to start from four on the second line, but with the added advantage of speed horses in front of him in Alta Maestro and Mach Shard as well as Aloka. Matt Markham

What happens next for yesterday’s Rangiora Classic winner, Classie Brigade, remains up in the air. The brilliant Nigel McGrath trained pacer continued a grand season on the tracks with a big win in yesterday’s feature event at Rangiora, downing some highly credentialed pacers as he continues his rise up the pacing ranks of New Zealand. And the question now for McGrath and the four-year-old’s connections is, where to next? The absence of Lazarus from the Harness Jewels makes continuing on for a few more weeks quite enticing, but there’s also Waikiki Beach and Heaven Rocks waiting for that assignment too. So heading to the paddock now and aiming towards a New Zealand Trotting Cup campaign in the spring is also on the table. “I’m not sure what way we will go,” McGrath said. “I’ll have that discussion with the owners this week and we will lock in a plan.” What McGrath does know though is that whatever decision is made, he’s going to have a very nice open class pacer next season, whether he starts fresh or remains a Harness Jewels contender or not. “He’s had a great season and has really developed into a good stayer. “I thought his Invercargill Cup win, which was run in the second fastest time ever over two miles in New Zealand was a huge performance, but maybe that run yesterday was better considering what he was up against. “When you look at the field they have all done some really good things in their careers and we had a bit of bad luck coming off the back but were still able to get home over the top of them in a really quick time, it was a great performance especially after the early burn.” Classie Brigade reunited with Ricky May for yesterday’s feature after May was the man who piloted him through most of his three-year-old season. After igniting early to get down to the markers and engaging in battle with Field Marshal, May must have been concerned when the leader stopped in his lap at the 400 metre mark and cost him valuable lengths while his rivals surged clear. “It didn’t look good at that point,” McGrath said. “You don’t expect a good horse like Field Marshal to stop on you, but Ricky never panicked and once he found clear air he really drove to the line.” Classie Brigade has now had 11 starts this season for five wins and three placings with his stake earning now more than $200,00. Chase The Dream returned to form with a bold run for second while there was plenty of merit in the performances of both Franco Nelson and Piccadilly Princess who really put the speed on at rounding the final bend. May was in action earlier in the day too winning the three-year-old feature with Mongolian Hero for Paul Court.  Matt Markham

“Enghien felt even stronger the right-handed way around than what he did back home”. That was one sentence the connections of this week’s Northern 3yo Trotting Derby hopefuls didn’t want to hear following the Love You gelding’s ninth win from 13 starts at Alexandra Park last Friday. “He’s never felt so strong. He seems to be getting tougher with each run no matter where he lines up. The Alexandra Park-way-around didn’t faze him at all. “If anything he trotted better than he ever has. If there were any slight queries it only came after the false start. He felt a bit keen and was fired up briefly, but once the race was under way he relaxed nicely,” said driver Ricky May. “He’ll be better for that run too. He’s got so much stamina and this week’s 2700m should suit him even more. It’s hard to see him being beaten this Friday if that first-up run is anything to go by,” the Methven reinsman added. If the Greg and Nina Hope trained gelding does win this Friday’s $80,000 Breckon Farms Northern Trotting Derby, it will be Enghien’s second Group One victory after nailing the New Zealand 3yo Trotting Derby at Addington Raceway on April 7. The stunning Canterbury squaregaiter is also the New Zealand 1950m mobile 3yo record holder as well - making May’s post-race comments even more potent. In February Enghien set the new time of 2:22.2 in the Sires Stakes Prelude at Addington. But on Friday Enghien was having his first look at Alexandra Park in the Group Two $60,000 Lone Star Riccarton Sires stakes 3yo Trotters Championship - and he come within 0.1 of a second of Royal Aspiration's May 2013 New Zealand 2200m mobile record for 3yo trotters. May settled the bay back from his second row draw and then they were three-wide with cover at the bell, and then in the one-one-down the back straight. The $2 favourite then cruised away in the home straight to win by half a length from the fast-finishing second favourite, President Roydon (Mark Purdon). Third favourite Chevron Express (Dexter Dunn) was three-and-a-quarter lengths back in third. Enghien stopped the clock in 2:43.1 (mile rate 1:59.2) and came home in 59.2 and 28.9. May knows what it’s like to win the Northern Trotting Derby behind a hot favourite. His only win in the race came in 2009 behind the Allan and Lee Georgeson trained $1.30 favourite Ima Gold Digger. “It’s a race all drivers and especially trainers of young trotters love to win, and I say I’m proud to have my name on the trophy. “This horse is going better than when Monbet was three. In saying that Monbet didn’t race or win anything big in his 3-year-old season. At the same time of their careers Enghien would be stronger,” may said. “He’s certainly no Monbet yet and has some way to get there but he just feels like a good strong horse who could be like Monbet when he is five,” he added. Monbet never won a Group race when he was three, but he and May were beaten a length by Speeding Spur and Josh Dickie in the 2015 edition of the Northern Trotting Derby. “He’s a future Dominion and Rowe Cup horse all right. Greg and Nina have a great team of trotters to call on. They are a credit to their training regime,” May said. May will drive Enghien’s stablemate and the December 31 National Trot winner, Quite A Moment in Friday’s Group One $150,000 Rowe Cup. Enghien has now had nine wins since making his debut 13 starts ago at Washdyke with a win. He has also placed once and banked $161,779 in stakes. He is owned by the Hopes and Richard Dellaca, and was bred by Heather Middleton and the estate of Carl Middleton; and Millburn Farm Ltd.   Duane Ranger  

Josh Kennett heard Valmagne’s first win in 14 months at Hawera yesterday (Monday) on a scratchy old radio while he was gearing up nine-length winner, Veneto - some 750km away in Motukarara. “One of my owners had the radio and it was great to hear Valmagne win. I still haven’t seen it yet, but this mare down here won pretty easy as well, thanks to a nice Ricky May drive. “We’ve had a great Easter Monday. I’m rapt for Dad. It’s a good lead-up going into the big Group One races at Alexandra Park in the next few weeks. The horse is very fit,” Waimate-based Kennett said. Although Valmagne has placed seven times this season, yesterday's win was his first since scoring at Alexandra Park in February last year. “He’s coming into winning form at exactly the right time,” Kennett said. Valmagne, who is based at Craig and Josh Kennett’s Cambridge satellite stable, proved too good for his eight opponents in the feature trot - the Clegg's Handicap for the R50 and faster trotters. Valmagne, the sole 35m back-marker, was a pronounced $1.80 favourite because the public knew his class would take him a long way in the $7,000 event. At the end of the 2500m stand the 9-year-old and driver Scott Phelan had one-and-a-quarter lengths to spare over runner-up, Harry H (Jay Abernethy). The chestnut son of Sundon stopped the clock in 2:59.4 (mile rate 2:17.4) and he came home in 68.3 and 33.2. Valmagne has now won 13 of his 137 starts and placed in 39 others for $223,027. "He's the sort of horse who thrives on racing. If he could race every week he would. You look at his record fresh - it isn't much. He gets better with racing. He just keeps toiling away. "I thought he would be close to a win because he hasn't had too much luck go his way in recent starts. I'm just stoked for Dad (Craig) who has put all the hard yards into him," Kennett said. I really hope he enjoys those big races in Auckland and can go close again," he added. The big 'Group One' races Kennett was referring to were the $80,000 Anzac Cup and the $150,000 Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park on April 21 and 28 respectively. With the big guns like Monbet, Speeding Spur and Master Lavros missing Kennett sees no reason why Valmagne can’t at least emulate his feat of last year. “He finished second behind Monbet in last year’s Rowe Cup and that was pretty special because it was our first Rowe Cup starter. There’s no Monbet there this year, so who knows?” Kennett said. Meanwhile the Arna Donnelly trained and driven Imajollywally won the feature event at the Hawera two-day meeting - the $12,000 South Taranaki Club Hawera Cup. It was Imajollywally's 11th career win, fourth this season - and second at Hawera. He and Donnelly also won on the track on January 8. The Hawera Cup was the last of the 13-race North Island Country Cups Series. The $25,000 final will be at Cambridge Raceway on April 25 (Anzac Day). The Nicky Chilcott trained Razor Brogden and The Tony Herlihy (MNZM) trained Queen Lostris were the only horses to win on both days of the meeting. For the record the Dave Iremonger trained Speedy Earl raced three times in three days at Hawera. The son of trained Speedy Earl finished fifth on the first day, and then won and placed on day two. On Monday Speedy Earl was the $13.50 sixth favourite and won the first race by one-a-quarter lengths and then lined up seven races later and paid $7.50 for a third. Trent Lethaby drove the brown gelding in all three of his Hawera starts.   Duane Ranger

It’s a close race for bragging rights on who will be the most successful driver and trainer heading into the final meeting of the season on the Motukarara track this season. After five meetings for the Banks Peninsula Trotting Club and a further one for the Akaroa Trotting Club, it’s all nice and friendly at the top of the lists for winners over the season with Ricky May leading the drivers’ table and Greg and Nina Hope on top of the trainers. Taking into account only wins, May has six driving successes on the green top of Motukarara while the Hopes have four training wins next to their name. Winners this season have come from Westar Sam, Ella Abbe, Gershwin., Harrysul and English Rose for the May and Hopes’ combination while May was also successful on Novak for Laurence Hanrahan. The Hope’s only chance of adding to their tally for the day comes in the first race when they line Eastwood Cheiftain up in the amatuer drivers event with Paul Wallace in the sulky. May’s chances are limited to just six on the 11 races card with some tidy drives including that of debutant Mo Farah who hails from the stable of his father, Terry. An Ohoka Arizona three-year-old from The Tough Tart, who was bred by May’ wife Judy, Mo Farah was an impressive winner at the Ashburton trials recently. Judy will be looking for her second success of the weekend as an owner after Cullenz Diamond was successful for her at Forbury Park on Thursday night. Jessica Young (five wins), Blair Orange (five) and Dexter Dunn, Craig Thornley, Robbie Holmes and Sam Ottley are all nipping at the heels of May in the driver’s wins column while 11 trainers have trained two winners each during the season at the track behind the Hope team’s tally. All counted, 19 horses will race today who have won on the track already this season with the likes of Maganfique, Celestial Arden, Queen Bee Bardon, Momentous, Novak and Leading The Way all chances to double up in their respective races.   Matt Markham

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