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It was his race to lose. This was the scenario facing brilliant Canterbury trotter Monbet tonight (Friday) at Alexandra Park, Auckland as he faced the harness racing starter in the Gr.1 $NZ150,000 Canam Rowe Cup, the final leg of the 2015/16 Australian Pacing Gold Trotting Masters series. Following his breathtaking victory last week in the ANZAC Cup and the sad season ending injury to his arch rival Speeding Spur, punters installed the Greg and Nina Hope trained gelding as an unbackable favourite in the North Island’s biggest trotting feature. And he didn’t disappoint. Starting from the inside of the second-line in the 3200m stand start feature, champion reinsman Ricky May wasted little time soon after a safe beginning to put the big striding Love You gelding into a forward position. Taking off at the 2000m mark, Monbet whistled around the field before taking control with 1700m left to run. Thereafter, it was a procession. The lead time was covered in 2:07.5. May allowed Monbet to stride boldly in front while rivals jostled for positions as they battled for second prize. Monbet covered the final mile in sectionals of 31.6, 29.8, 28.4 and 29 seconds. In the home straight, Monbet raced away and scored a dominant victory with a winning margin of 3 ½ lengths over Valmagne while a further 2 ½ lengths back to Queen Kenny in third. The race time was 4:06.3 with a mile rate of 2:03.8. It was his sixth Group One triumph this season. Monbet also becomes the first four-year-old to win the feature since Special Pride who scored back in 1980. The victory provided May with his second victory in the Rowe Cup after scoring aboard with Highwood back in 1988 while it was a first for the Hope’s. While recording back to back victories in APG Trotting Masters events during the past week, Speeding Spur will claim the title after amassing 220points throughout the season while Monbet will finish as the runner-up with 203 points. But with the Gr.1 $NZ100,000 Ruby on Jewels day at Cambridge on June 4 at his mercy, it may be enough to secure both National Horse and Trotter of the Year awards. A fitting result for a magical season if successful. Only time will tell. Chris Barsby

Everything went to plan for the four harness racing big guns tonight at the Auckland Trotting Club's meeting at Alexandra Park. Spanish Armada got things off to a flying start when she was successful in the $138,000.00 Group 1 Magness Benrow Sire Stakes Fillies Championship. Away nicely from barrier 6, co trainer and driver Natalie Rasmussen had the classy 2yo Bettor’s Delight in front and dictating after 300m. No one was keen to take the recent Caduceus Club Final winner on and she was allowed to stride along in front. While some punters who took the $1.30 around the favourite would have been nervous when the Mark Jones trained filly Delightful Memphis popped out of her 1-1 spot to issue a serious challenge, to wear the leader down to just a winner margin of a neck. The winner’s time for the 1700m trip was 2:02.3, Last mile in 1.55.7 – 800m 56.4 – 400m 27.7. The PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales 2yo Fillies Final set down for the 13th May will be the next clash of these two talented fillies. No doubt with a handy draw Delightful Memphis could turn the tables on the top seed Purdon/Rasmussen runner. Spanish Armada _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Tonight’s Breckon Farms Northern Trotting Derby victory for Marcoola once again justified owner/driver Clint Ford’s decision to not sell his star 3yo colt. With an offer reportedly around the $250,000.00 mark, Ford was quick to make it clear that he wouldn’t be for sale. Since that offer Marcoola has won just over $120,000.00 in stakes, while adding the NZ Trotters Derby, Sire Stakes Trotting Championship and now the Northern Trotting Derby to his resume. A 3yo Colt by Champion sire Sundon out of the Ford Family’s handy race mare Arabess – Marcoola is the horse most people dream of breeding and owner themselves. A smart drive from Clint tonight got the chocolates as he once again showcased his class by demolishing a top class field. Allowed to settle early by Ford, Marcoola was then set around to find the top, this move left 2nd favourite High Gait in a world of trouble covered up four back the pegs. In a surprise move, High Gait’s driver Natalie Rasmussen was happy to stay tucked along the rail and was seen storming home for an unlucky 3rd. Marcoola went to the line, with plenty in the tank as Ford only flicked the reins at his charge in the home straight to score by 1 length in an overall time of 3:23.7, Mile rate of 2:01.4 – 800m in 58.2 – 400m in 29.6. The Harness Jewels looks his race to lose on the back of this 7 race winning streak. Marcoola _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Field Marshal was another short favourite to salute the judge, this time doing the sort after Taylor Mile/Messenger double. After a huge performance in last weeks Taylor Mile, Trainer Tim Butt was confident his top class Art Major 4yo would handle every part of the 2700m trip.  Given a lovely trip by leading driver Dexter Dunn, Field Marshal was dominate beating Australia visitor My Kiwi Mate by 1 ¼ Lengths in a sizzling 3:15.8. With tonight’s victory, Field Marshal climbs over the $250,000.00 mark in stakes earnings, with a healthy record of 14 wins from just the 25 starts. While Field Marshal in a clear leader on top of the Harness Jewels leader board, Australian My Kiwi Mate catapulted himself into 22nd spot, just $10,000.00 short of the 12th place Captain Doimio. With connections chasing a jewels spot, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see My Kiwi Mate line up at Alexandra Park over the next few weeks in order to qualify. The 4yo Jewels invite is likely to go to the Amanda Turnbull trained Tact Tate, who will make their decision in the coming days. Field Marshal _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Superstar trotter Monbet was absolutely sensational in the 2016 Rowe Cup, winning from an awkward, inside the back row draw. Trained at Woodend Beach by Greg and Nina Hope, Monbet started one of the hottest favourites in history after arch rival Speeding Spur was stuck down by a suspensory injury that could see him sidelined for 10-12 months. Away nicely from the tapes, Monbet settled in before driver Ricky May sent the $1.11 favourite around to the lead with two laps to run. From there on after the 4yo Love You gelding never looks in danger. Owned by the Hopes and M J Molloy, they also turned down a reported offer of $600,000.00 a few weeks back. Since that offer Monbet has earn't a tidy $184,000.00. Co trainer Greg Hope confirmed last night that providing his charge recovers well they will look to take their place in the Cambridge Harness Jewels, where he will start one of the shortest jewels favourites ever. Waimate trotter Valmagne was the run of the race behind the winner. Co Trainer Josh Kennett was stoked with the performance of his stable star, “He has gone super, last week he broke just as he was getting into it” said Kennett. Monbet Andrew Fitzgerald

If Marcoola becomes New Zealand's latest dual Trotting Derby winner tonight driver Clint Ford will have an unusual mentor to thank --- champion rugby coach Robbie Deans. After clearly outstaying the same rivals in the Sires' Stakes last Friday, Marcoola looks perfectly suited by tonight's 2700m mobile and may have gained enough respect to earn himself the lead. If he does that it would seem only High Gait, who was a brave fourth after galloping last Friday, should test him, especially if she trailed from the ace draw. But as so often happens with three-year-old trotters, Marcoola looks to be holding his peak form and it will take a very good horse to run him down. Which puts Ford in a group one hot seat, a place he is starting to feel more comfortable even against driving superstars like Herlihy, McKendry, May and Rasmussen. Ford does the driving of Marcoola in a family training set-up which sees his father Ken officially train the three-year-old, while sister Amanda Tomlinson also works horses from the same Canterbury property. "It is a real family affair but I do all the work with this horse," says Clint. "He trotted great last week but it almost wasn't until about half an hour after the win last week it sunk in what we are achieving. "When you are out there driving it is just like a maiden race, its the same type of stuff but its after you win a race like the Derby you realise it is quite a big deal."
 Ford says while driving in the big time initially took him out of his comfort zone, that was the same when he played rugby, in which he made it all the way to the verges of the Canterbury NPC squad. "Back then my coach at Canterbury Country was Robbie Deans and he always said if you want to get anywhere near the top, you have to be able to push through your comfort zone. "I have never forgotten that, it has always stuck with me. So when I started getting out here driving in these big races, I tried to enjoy in, even though I wasn't comfortable to start with. "And now I am a lot more relaxed." So too is Marcoola, who even after a hard run last Friday has thrived this week. As good as High Gait is, she is probably going to need the perfect trail and one passing lane shot to get past the southerner tonight. While Ford is still coming to grips with the big time, one of the most relaxed men in harness racing will dominate tonight's other group one trot. Ricky May should only have to keep superstar trotter Monbet out of trouble to win the $150,000 Rowe Cup, even though it is his first start over 3200m. The four-year-old has been sensational all season and with the three other best trotters in the country sidelined, tonight's race is his to lose. His draw of one on the second line is hardly ideal but it also allows May to drive conservatively before moving mid-race, not the worst scenario for a young horse against the hardened pros over the extreme distance. Of those rivals only Sheemon is a serious group one winner so looks the obvious threat in a race that suits him. Courtesy of Michael Guerin

There is still plenty at stake for Monbet. The exceptional four-year-old trotting talent will start as a prohibitive harness racing favourite this Friday night in the Gr.1 $NZ150,000 Canam Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park, Auckland – the final leg of the 2015/16 Australian Pacing Gold Trotting Masters. Following his scintillating victory in last week’s ANZAC Cup where he blew away Speeding Spur who was subsequently diagnosed with a season ending injury, Monbet can’t surpass his arch rival who gathered enough points to hold an unassailable lead heading into the final leg. Speeding Spur has 220 points while Monbet has 103 points prior to Friday’s feature. But there’s still plenty up for grabs for the Canterbury trained star. If Monbet proves successful in the Rowe Cup and then ventures to Cambridge in June for the Jewels and collects another Group One victory, he could easily claim the Trotter of the Year plus the overall Horse of the Year titles. The Love You gelding has already won five Group One races this season. On Friday night, Monbet will face twelve rivals in the grueling 3200m stand start feature including all bar Speeding Spur from last week’s ANZAC Cup. The Greg & Nina Hope trained performer is a stand start specialist but is foreign to the two mile distance range with 2700m being the longest he’s raced. Another intriguing factor to be considered this week for Monbet is his draw, the inside of the second-line. But if there is a scratching to his inside in the great race, Monbet will move from his inside second line draw to the outside of the front line, barrier nine, in direct contrast to what happens in mobile races. Most expect to him win regardless of where he starts from - front or second-line. And favourites have a great record in the race with the punters elect winning 7 of the last 9 editions, the exceptions being Stig in 2013 and I Can Doosit in 2011, the first of his two victories in the feature event. Champion reinsman Ricky May will once again handle Monbet and he is no stranger to success in the premier North Island trotting feature having won the race back in 1988 with Highwood. Key rivals this week include Sheemon, a runner-up in this event two years ago while the improving types of Blackguards Corner and Yagunnakissmeornot will also command respect. Realmein, Jag’s Invasion and Scarrymcleary all have upset chances on current form. Waterloo Sunset, Valmagne, Queen Kenny, Paramount Dream, Al Bundy and Quite A Moment will all require luck to claim the feature. The Canam Rowe Cup is race 8 on the program and scheduled to start at 9.13pm local time. Chris Barsby

Todays running  of the $25,000 Canterbury Country Cups Series Final at the harness racing meeting at Methven drew a great field of immediate grade pacers which made it hard to sort the runners for the betting public. Seel The Deal, Idealindiamonds and Cullect A Guinness looked the three on paper but several runners just needed an ounce of luck to become major players here. As soon as the tapes went though, the whole complexion of the Final changed. I Dealindiamonds with Matty Anderson in the bike galloped wildly and settled well back in the running while Seel The Deal and Ricky May were also slow away and also settlled well back. However Cullect A Guinness with John Dunn driving made a flyer from his 30 metre mark and had slotted into the one by one after 250 metres. Here We Go Again had made a great beginning for Craig Thornley and Craig made every post a winner as he kept up a very sharp tempo in front which resulted in no mid -race moves from those back in the field. They all started to make runs passing the 500 metres mark and the first to go was Cullect The Guinness. John Dunn sent him forward and he grabbed the lead as they turned for home and quickly put a couple of lengths on the competition which he easily held all the way up the long Methven straight. Seel The Deal was still last as they turned for home but he flashed home late  to grab second on the finishing line from Callenberg and Dexter Dunn who had sat on the back of Cullect A Guinness the whole journey. It  was a super run by Seel The Deal, who after being pushed wider on the track on the last corner, made up many lengths over the last 400 metres which was cut out off the front in a sharp 28.6. Cullect A Guinness paced the 3000 metres on the grass in 3:55.1, a mile rate of 2:06.2 with closing sectionials of 57.1 and 28.6. Today's win was the 9th from just 21 starts for Cullect A Guinness, which has now banked $85,522 for his owner Peter Higinbottom. A horse that has always struggled with soundness issues, he has rarely put in a poor run during the whole of this season. In his previous start he was a game second behind the top pacer Locharburn in that horse's New Zealand record of 3:06.5 over the 2600m. The great stayer that he is, it seems likely that Cullect A Guinness will take his place alongside stablemates Franco Nelson and Mighty Flying Mac in Saturday night's Easter Cup to be run over 3200m at Group One level. " I think we have to give him his chance against the best pacers in the Easter Cup" " His manners have improved and he is such a tough stayer that he could be a big place chance with a with a bit of luck in the running," John said. Harnesslink Media  

The two year old pace at the harness racing meeting at Addington Raceway tonight looked a fairly open race with several runners being well supported on the tote. Mongolian Storm was sent out the favourite but Tere The Terminator and Nicol Shard were very close up in the betting market as well. Tere The Terminator led from barrier one for Blair Orange and was out by a couple of lengths passing the mile marker and then for no reason galloped and veered out and almost collected Nicol Shard and Dexter Dunn who were improving on his outer. Mongolian Storm and Ricky May took the opportunity to work to the front and then hand up to Nicol Shard who after getting skittled by Tere The Terminator showed speed to whip around the field and lead. The order stayed the same until Bettor To Be Tricky went up and applied real pressure passing the 500 metres mark. Turning for home Bettor To Be Tricky surged to the front and looked the likely winner but Mongolian Storm slowly but surely started to real him in the last 150 metres and went on by in the last 50 metres for a deserved win. Bettor To Be Tricky stuck on really well for second with the first starter Cobra Banner running on late for third. In the coolish windy conditions, Mongolian Storm paced the 1950 metres in 2:24.1, a mile rate of 1:58.9 with the closing sectionals of 58.4 and 29.1. Trainer Paul Court was happy with the run by the son of Courage Under Fire " He has missed a bit of work lately so he was pretty short tonight." " I thought he might be vunerable because of that but class has got him home." " That run will tighten him up bigtime and he can go to the Sires Stakes heat next week now." " Also I think he is better driven with a sit because he has such high speed."  " Whatever he does at two is a bonus as I think he will make a lovely three year old," Paul said. Driver Ricky May was also happy with the run of Mongolian Storm. " He has actually won that a lot easier than it looked." "I was trying to look after him throughout the race as I knew he was short of race fitness." " It was really windy out there as well so it was a  good effort,"  Ricky said. Brad Mowbray, the trainer of Tere The Terminator was still shaking his head when asked for comment on his smart two year old. " He galloped for no reason really which is frustrating but I suppose you can say he is a work in progress."  "He did make up a lot of ground after his gallop to finish where he did so there is no problem with the ability". " We just needs the manners to come right," Brad said Harnesslink Media  

The $40,000 Northern Southland Cup run at the harness racing meeting at Ascot Park on Saturday drew a very even field with one exception - Mossdale Conner. Due to the vagaries of the dropback system, Mossdale Conner is only rated a C6 pacer in New Zealand so was only given a 20 metres handicap in The Northern Southland Cup while Quick As A Trick and Titan Banner were both given 30 metres handicaps. Now Mossdale Conner might not have won a race this season in thirteen attempts but his placings had earned him over $180,000 prior to Saturdays race. On the Australasian Grand Circuit for 2015-- 2016, Mossdale had finished fifth on the overall table behind the joint winners Lennytheshark and Smolda. Yet many pundits somehow saw him as vulnerable on Saturday but Mossdale Conner showed the advantage of competing at that top Grand Circuit level all season with a comprehensive win during which he hardly got out of second gear. Away well for Ricky May from his 20 metres handicap, Mossdale Conner went to the front after 700 metres and that was race over from there. Keeping up a high tempo from there, Mossdale Conner went to the finishing line with plenty left in the tank and took forever to pull up past the line. He always looks a bit flat when out on his own as he was on Saturday where as in reality he is waiting for something to race Costa Del Magnifico went another top race to run second, especially in light of the fact he had been cast in his box the previous Sunday and had been under the care of the vet most of the week and had missed valuable work as well. Democrat Party battled on for a good third but did have the run of the race most of the way. Ricky May was shaking his head when talking to Harnesslink in the birdcage post race. " He has won that so easy it was scary." " He has never got out of second gear and if something had been able to challenge him, there would have been big gaps to the rest. " When he is on his game like he was this afternoon, he is right up there with the best on the Grand Circuit and I don't think a lot of people realize how big the gap is between a race like today and the Grand Circuit." " I know that Greg (Hope) is toying with giving Mossdale Conner a decent break this year as he has never had a decent break in his whole career." " He doesn't have to improve much from this season to start winning some of those Grand Circuit races," Ricky said. Brent Shirley, the trainer of Costa Del Magnifico was happy with his performance but ruing the bad luck he had suffered pre race which meant his pride and joy went into the race under done. " I am not saying for a minute we would have beaten Mossdale Conner but we would have certainly made him work a lot harder for the victory." Brent said Mossdale Conner paced the 2700 metres from a stand in 3:20.2, a mile rate of 1:59.3 with closing sectionals of 56.6 and 28. His winning time was just one tenth of a second outside of the track record held by Isaiah of 3:20.1. The way Mossdale Conner has progressed this season on the Grand Circuit, he looks certain to become one of the big players in all the classics next year. Harnesslink Media   

 The $25,000 Caduceus Club of Southland Pace for Two year old fillies at the harness racing meeting at Ascot Park in Invercargil yesterday is a highly sought after race each year by South Island trainers and yesterdays field of twelve runners was indicative of that interest. The Leonard Memorial winner Delightful Memphis from the Mark Jones barn was a warm favourite even though she had drawn awkwardly at two second line. Her main competition was expected to come from the Mach Three filly Renske B from the All Star barn who had shown plenty of promise in her brief career to date and had pleased trainer Mark Purdon with her work leading into the race. Kotare Yarra and John Dunn flew the gate from barrier seven to lead early from Ariadne Lavra who trailed and Renske B who ended up in the one out position in the open. Hard on her back after getting a lovely run through from her second line draw was Delightful Memphis  and Ricky May. With Kotare Yarra setting a good tempo in front there were no mid race moves and the order remained the same as they went past the 400 metres. On the point of the turn, Delightful Memphis peeled three wide and slowly but surely worked herself past Renske B who fought hard but had no answer to the Bettor's Delight filly who went on to make it two from two in her career to date. A very game Renske B held second from Ariadne Lavra who never left the inner at any point of the race in running third why Kotare Yarra impressed once again by doing a power of work and sticking on for a game fourth. Delightful Memphis impressed Ricky May with her effort. " She gave me quite a few worries in her preliminary by running about something terrible." " I had been told she was still very green but the degree did surprise me." " However to be fair to her, when she turned to follow the mobile at the start, she was a lot more tractable and didn't do anything seriously wrong during the running." " With the run she got she was always going to win that race but she did give me a very nice feel and felt like a filly that could develop with further experience into a high class racehorse, "Ricky told Harnesslink post race. Raced by Wayne Higgs and Simon Doull amongst others, Delightful Memphis will shortly come up against the likes of Spanish Armarda and Casino Belle but on her two race starts to date ,she looks more than up to the challenge. Delightful Memphis Harnesslink Media

The feature race at tomorrow's harness racing meeting at Ascot Park is the $40,000 Northern Southern Cup and Southlander Archie Affleck is hoping his pride and joy Mossdale Conner can break his duck for the season and win one for the locals. With the great stakemoney on offer tomorrow, the leading Canterbury stables have come south in their droves and on paper thay look to have a strangle hold on most of the better races. Although trained in Canterbury by Greg and Nina Hope, Mossdale Conner was bred and is owned in Southland and locals would love nothing more than to see him chalk a win up for Southland tomorrow. Even though he hasn't won a race this season in 13 starts, he has recorded 3 seconds and four thirds and all those placings were at the highest level as his stake earnings of $180,855 would testify to. Due to his lack of a win this season, Mossdale Conner has actually dropped back one grade from C7 to C6 which means even though he is the only horse in the field who has run on the Grand Circuit all season, he is actually going to receive a 10 metre start tomorrow from both Titan Banner and Quick As A Trick. All that points to Mossdale Conner looking a class above them from his 20 metre handicap and driver Ricky May was confident of a big run when spoken to earlier in the week. " He has gone super all year in the big races like the New Zealand Cup, NZ FFA, Auckland Cup and the Victoria Cup to mention just a few and does look a class above most here." " Greg is very happy with him so he has to be hard to beat on Saturday," Ricky said. Trainer Greg Hope won't be at Ascot Park tomorrow as he has Quite A Moment lining up in the Great Southern Star at Tabcorp Park Melton but is very confident that Mossdale Conner is close to his peak for tomorrow's race. " He has come back from Australia in great condition and his recent trial at Rangiora was very good." " His work since has been right up there with his best and I think he will be awfully hard to beat back with horses of his own grade on Saturday," Greg said. Mossdale Conner may not have won a race all season but it would be fitting if the Southland owned gelding could break his duck in the Northern Southland Cup on Saturday. Harnesslink Media

The name of 'Geddes' has been heavily involved in harness racing in New Zealand as long as the records go back. As Jim Geddes was explaining to the writer yesterday afternoon at Reefton, his great great grand father was driving in a race in Canterbury as far back as 1868 and the family have been involved ever since. These days Jim trains in conjunction with his son James Geddes and they always have a handy horse or two in the barn. Yesterday they lined up four starters at the Reefton meeting and came away with two winners and a placegetter for a great result for the small Norwood based barn. First up was the four year old American Ideal mare in Bontz who lead early for James before taking a trail behind the favourite Blade and when angled into the clear at the top of the straight, she simply ran away and hid from the opposition by 3 1/2 lengths. Extremely unlucky on the first day at Westport on Friday, James was very confident going into yesterday's race. " I took a trail on Friday behind the $2.00 shot but it stopped badly on the last corner and dragged me out the back." " I was absolutely jogging at the time and would have won easily so I was out early today to make sure I didn't get caught again." " I thought Bontz was good enough to go around in the good fillies races last year but she use to tie up something shocking and we had to put her aside. " This year we give her a mixture of swimming and galloping but not too much of either to be honest and it seems to be working.' She has got the ability to win a few more races yet, James told Harnesslink yesterday afternoon. Four races later the stablemate Mogul made it two wins from two starts over the weekend when he proved way too strong for a good field of C1 pacers in the hands of stand in driver Ricky May as James was driving the stablemate Buckeye. Away well early, Mogul joined the three wide line and progressed to the parked position with a lap to go. From there he got cover behind the favourite Latin Lloyd and when Ricky asked him for an effort on the corner, Mogul quickly sprinted up to them and past them for an impressive victory. Ricky May was suitably impressed. " He doesn't know anything yet but he has got a lot of bottom to him and showed a bit of speed when I pulled him out. " He has got the makings of a nice horse." James was just as impressed with the son of American Ideal. " That is only the fourth time off the place in his career to date." " He qualified the first time we took him off the place in mid January and then we gave him a quiet C0 trial before coming to the coast." " Both his wins here have been on raw ability as he hasn't got any ring craft yet." " He gives you the feel of a really nice horse in the making but whether that is for me or not is another matter." "I am milking 800 cows and have heaps of young ones at home so the racehorses are all for sale at the moment." Megan Mcintyre has been a great help with the young ones at home and I can't thank her enough but we have nine yearlings and seven weanlings at the moment so we need to be turning them over," James said. Harnesslink Media

The four year old gelding Culley Backy provided Methven trainer Michael Heenan with a well overdue win yesterday when he was successful in the Thomas Freight Pace at the harness racing meeting at Reefton. Facing the starter yesterday for the eighteenth time,Culley Backy had already been placed six times in his previous seventeen starts and had had little luck throughout his short career. Taken straight to the front yesterday by leading driver Ricky May, Culley Backy set a solid tempo in front and had them all in trouble as they straightened for home and when Ricky asked for the big effort, the son of Gotta Go Cullect shot clear and won with with plenty in hand by 2 1/2 lengths. Culley Backy paced the 2000 metres from the stand in 2:38.6 with closing sectionals on the grass of 59.6 and 29.1. Michael was relieved that Culley Backy had finally put a complete performance together. " He has promised to do that for a while to be honest but he rarely gets the rub of the green this horse and it was nice to see him in front today and out of trouble for once." " He has had a lot of little issues that haven't helped the cause as well but we seem to be getting on top of these at the moment," Michael told Harnesslink yesterday afternoon. Michael and his wife Di bought Culley Backy off local Methven trainer Danny McKendry as a three year old. " Danny likes to sell his horses that he develops while they are still three year olds but Culley Backy had had a couple of setbacks and it was getting late in the season when we bought him." "Danny quite liked him which is always a good recommendation as he is a great judge, " Michael said. Culley Backy qualified quite impressively at Ashburton last year but a shoulder injury has taken a lot longer to come right than initially envisaged which has hindered his progress. Varying his training routine to help his recovery, Michael discovered that Culley Backy can trot quite impressively. " He looks to have a fair bit of upside as a trotter in my opinion and I will be switching him over to trotting full time in the near future." " I may give him a start in an upcoming Junior Drivers event as a pacer but after that I will concentrate on sorting out his switch to trotting. "I gave him a run at the qualifying trials as a trotter and he missed away badly but made up a huge amount of ground after that and was well inside the time required so the ability is there" " He only broke because he touched himself behind so sorting that issue is the first priority at the moment," Michael said. Harnesslink Media  

Classie Brigade showed Southlanders when he won easily at Winton Raceway on Saturday against older more experienced campaigners that he'll be a serious contender for the end of season Group Two Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes .   The Bettor's Delight colt was driven by Ricky May who's been associated with him from day one.   "I actually drove him the first time he went off the place." It was at a workout at Methven (February 2015) and he slipped over but he got up and paced and I've driven him ever since," said May.   He had six starts at two, recording two seconds.   "He was a nice two year old and got third in the Sires Stakes Final at Addington (behind Lazarus and Chase The Dream) at three so he's been right there." At Auckland (in the Sales Series Final) a hopple shorter came out going into the first bend and hit him in the stomach and he started bucking." "It was a shame because it was the first time he'd drawn handy." "He's come down here instead of going to Auckland," Ricky said.   In today's Plumbing World Mobile Pace, May decided to stay out of the early rush and settled in the one one as All Jokes Aside sped to the top. With Macy Blue Chip softening up the leader, May waited until the 400 metres before he got a nice tow into the race on the back of an improving Machie Mach. Just before straightening May let the colt run and he quickly improved to challenge All Jokes Aside. Halfway down the straight he'd hit the lead and came away to win easily by one and a half lengths from All Jokes Aside. The winning time was 2-57.1.   "I didn't let him run out of the gate." "He's run out of the gate a couple of times but today I decided not to go out." It worked out good really. He got a nice run. He's good at coming off their backs," Ricky said. Classie Brigade is out of the seven win Mach Three mare Trigirl Brigade and has strong Southland roots.   His fourth dam Paula Brigade won six races for Harry Cox. She was owned by the late Peter (AD) Campbell.     Ryal Bush trainer Nathan Williamson bought a full brother to Classie Brigade at the Australasian Classic Yearling Sale in Auckland last week for $50,000.  Bruce Stewart - Southland Harness Racing - Check site here  

Anyone assessing this years crop of three year old colts and geldings would place Lazarus at the top of the pile with Chase The Dream his greatest challenger but as the season has gone on Classie Brigade has slowly but surely started to close the gap on the All Stars pair. His run tonight in the $23,500 Alabar Super Series Final at Addington Raceway was just further confirmation of the improvement he has made since his third placing in the New Zealand Sires Stakes Final on Cup Day. Driver Ricky May settled him three back in the running line early before shooting around to sit parked with a round to go as Blair Orange and Buster Brady looped the field to lead. Classie Brigade sat on Buster Brady's wheel until 200 metres from home where he easily worked clear and went on for a comfortable 1 1/4 length victory from a game Buster Brady and Bite The Bullet who closed late up the passing lane. Classie Brigade cut the 1950 metres out in a sizzling 2:20.4, a mile rate of 1:55.8 with closing sectionals of 57.2 and 29.1 in the warm windy conditions. Ricky May was full of praise for the son of Bettor's Delight. " He just keeps on getting better this horse ever time I drive him." " I didn't mind sitting in the death with him tonight as he concentrates better there than he does when he is in front". " He still can knock off a bit when left in front early but he is getting better all the time in that respect." " I think he is the next best three year old after the All Stars pair and I think he has closed the gap since Cup time." " He does go good the Auckland way round so I think he is a chance of getting some of it at Derby time the way he is going," Ricky said. Ricky May is never one to get too bullish about a horse's chances so his comments would suggest that Classie Brigade will be a major player in the Woodlands Stud Northern Derby on March 11th. Harnesslink Media  

Todays running of the Amberley Cup at the harness racing meeting at Rangiora Raceway looked to be a Hug The Wind benefit race. The Bettor's Delight gelding from the all conquering All Stars barn has $300,000 on his card and looked a class above his rivals on exposed form. The only question mark surrounding Hug The Wind was how would he handle the grass track which he was racing on for the first time. Tim Williams had Hug The Wind away well from the 20 metre mark but the speed up front from the start was electric and it took Hug The Wind nearly 600 metres to join the running line , four back on the outer. When Jerry Garcia took off around the field, Tim followed him around with Hug The Wind and sat outside the tear away pacemaker Thefriendlyassassin from the 1200 metres. Mastering Thefriendlyassassin on the corner, Hug The Wind looked the winner for a second before Seel The Deal and Ricky May started to make ground quickly from three back in the running line. Half way up the straight Seel The Deal went up to Hug The Wind and went straight on past to record a very impressive victory. Hug The Wind lost no admirers in finishing a close second while a very game Thefriendlyassassin held on for third after doing all the work in front in a fast run race. The 2600 metres from a stand on grass was cut out in a smart 3:20.2 with closing sectionals of 59.6 and 28.2. It was the son of American Ideal's sixth victory at just his tenth start and took his stake earnings over the $44,000 mark. Ricky May was impressed once again by his charge. " I really have a bit of time for this horse." " I had to slot in four back on the inner early on because Gerard (Thefriendlyassassin) was flying in front." "Soon as the pace eased slightly I came out and sat parked and got a good run on Jerry Garcia's back after he looped the field." "I was spotting Hug The Wind a few lengths on the corner but he has picked him up really easily in the end." "It is not very often that you run past the blue colours with the grey stars so that made the victory even better," Ricky said. When it was suggested to Ricky that Seel The Deal had become a grass track specialist in his short career to date and that he may not be as sharp on grit, Ricky was quick to disagree. " I think he will be just as good on the all weather track to be honest." " He is a very green horse at this stage of his career and has plenty to learn still." " He has shown me enough on the all weather to suggest he will be just as effective on it as he is on grass." " I think this horse has got a big future," Ricky said. Ricky May is never one to build up a horse unless he is genuinely impressed by him so don't dismiss the chances of Seel The Deal when he next steps onto an all weather track. Harnesslink Media  

Talking to a few of the senior drivers in Canterbury at the start of this season and the name of a young junior driver just starting out cropped up more than once. John Morrison, son of well known Mid -Canterbury saddler Chris Morrison had created a favouable impression on the senior drivers and by all accounts was seen as a driver of considerable promise. Starting as a weekend helper at Mike Heenan's establishment when he was an eleven year old, John has been there ever since. " I still work up at Michaels every weekend and at any time I can get up there from school." " I am at my last year at school and they have been very accommodating with letting me drive at trials and workouts during school hours," John told Harnesslink today. John lined up for the first time on raceday at Oamaru on August 2nd on a horse trained by his father Chris called Dreamcoat and almost pulled off a victory at drive number one with a close second after not having much luck in the running. If anyone had suggested at that point that John would still be winless over 130 starts later they would have been laughed at but that was the situation John found himself in heading to Waikouaiti yesterday. Come race four and John and Dreamcoat picked up another second placing to add to the other seven second placings John had accumulated in the last six months. Two races later John took the drive behind the 11 year old Motu Speedy Star and after sitting parked for the last lap, the old timer still had enough in reserve to keep the opposition at bay by a neck and credit John with his first lifetime win. " I had been unlucky on him at Geraldine when he ran fourth so I decided to take luck out of play yesterday and came out and sat parked with him as he felt great during the running." " I can't tell you what a relief it is to get that first victory under my belt." " You start to have a few doubts about how you are driving and it has been weighing on my mind a bit lately," John said. John was quick to thank Ricky May for all his help over the last six months. " Ricky has been great offering me advice and showing me things I needed to work on and improve on." " I can't thank him enough for his help," John said. When John leaves school at the end of this year, he aims to get work in a stable full time and to continue to learn the art of being a farrier. " I have been helping out Kerry O"Reilly with shoeing and it is something I am really keen to further my knowledge of." "It is something I would like to do alongside my driving as I really enjoy both," John said. John is also pretty confident his second winner won't take as long as his first. " Several of my regular drives have been knocking on the door like Rico Gold and I think dads trotter Majestic De Fence is slowly getting the ringcraft to go with the ability and won't be that long winning a race either. At just seventeen years of age John has been through a tough first six months in the driving ranks but the way he has hung in there and come out the other end a winner is testament to a determination to succeed that will take John a long way in harness racing. Harnesslink Media    

Harness racing trainer Greg Hope knew in his heart this week that his star young trotter Monbet would face a much stiffer challenge in the final of the Australasian Trotting Championship Final at Tabcorp Park Melton than he had in his heat win at Ballarat a week ago. With all of his competition having a 20 metre start over Monbet, you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to deduce that the front markers would try to make his task as hard as possible by keeping the pace as hot as possible throughout the contest. Which is exactly what they did with no let up at any stage of the $50,575 Final as the lead changed a couple of times during the running. Monbet and driver Ricky May were slow but safely away from their 20 metres handicap but seem to take an eternity to latch on to the back of the bunch with just over two laps to go. Habibti and Gavin Lang had found the front by then and the tempo was hot but when One Over Da Moon was sent forward three wide by Chris Alford, Monbet followed him around and worked to the death seat with just over a round to go. Habibti looked to have Monbet in some trouble passing the 400 metres mark but as they straightened for home Ricky asked for a supreme effort and like the champion he is Monbet lifted and mastered Habibti. Having done all that work throughout the race,Monbet was a sitting duck for the swoopers and they were lead by the outstanding mare Claudys Princess who looked a chance half way up the straight to roll the favourite but Monbet held too many guns in the final 100 metres to record an absolutely sensational win. Claudys Princess was game in running second not far in front of another solid finisher in El Paco. But all the honours lay with Monbet. To give all your competition a 20 metre start, be wide and parked for a greater part of the journey and still win the race like Monbet did is as dominant a performace as you will see. When you add in the fact that Monbet smashed the track record in the process, you start to realise the enormity of tonights win by Monbet. The big question post race tonight was would Monbet be back for The Great Southern Star and trainer Greg Hope was still to confirm one way or the other after tonights race. Harnesslink Media

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