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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

North Canterbury harness racing trainer Greg Hope has never been slow to point out to journalists his opinion of his outstanding trotter Monbet. Right through his three year old campaign when due to a variety of issues he was playing second fiddle to another outstanding young trotter in Speeding Spur, Greg never let a chance go by without taking the opportunity to tell you that the best was yet to come. That the big son of Love You would continue to improve as he matured into his large frame and if Greg was patient now, he would reap the rewards further down the track. It is a philosophy that Greg and wife Nina, who train the four year old gelding have stuck to again this season with the four year old gelding as they have structured his programme for his long term benefit regardless of the money involved. Even though he dominated the New Zealand FFA on Cup Day this year, he was at home in his box when the $250,000 Dominion Handicap was run three days later.  Now as we approach the $300,000 Southern Star series, Greg is in Australia with his star trotter but not for the big dance. Instead he has targeted the Australasian Trotting Championship and after a brilliant heat win at Ballarat last night appears in a different league to the opposition he will face next week in the $50,000 final. Away slowly as the lone back marker on 20 metres, Monbet tagged on to bunch after 500 metres but when regular driver Ricky May pushed the go button, he quickly looped the field and grabbed the lead and proceeded to run away and hide from a smart field of FFA trotters. At the line he had 19 metres to spare from runner up Super Zeck as Ricky let him coast down to the line. The quality of the win was there for all to see and Monbet carved nearly two seconds off the track record to boot. Ricky May was thrilled with the the first up effort in Australia. "We gave them 20 metres start and still won with a lot in hand so I am rapt with the run." "He was really fresh tonight so I was a bit careful with him early but that run will tidy him nicely for next week and he should strip a better horse again." "I have always said that Monbet was a freakish trotter who has pacer like speed and he looks to have a huge future," Ricky said. Ricky was just as upbeat when talking about his Ballarat Pacing Cup drive Mossdale Conner who ran a creditable fourth in his Australian debut. "I have never known him to get that keen in a race." "Greg had him pretty fresh going into it as he has a big few weeks in front of him but as a result he half pulled himself into the ground." "The way he felt, I didn't think he would have been too far away from the first two if he had settled." "He will be really tight next week so that won't be a problem and I give him a chance of getting amongst it." "The race that will really suit him will be the Hunter Cup where his great standing start manners will make him a huge chance," Ricky said. Harnesslink Media

For the last eighteen months, Stent has ruled the Australasian trotting scene but in the last two months he has lost his crown to a young harness racing four-year- old called Monbet. The son of Love You has thrilled crowds at both Addington and Alexandra Park with displays of raw speed seldom seen in a trotter in this part of the world. Today he added a staying componet to his reportire as he again put the best trotters in New Zealand to the sword in the $80,000 National FFA Trot. Ducking a couple of galloping horses early from his second line draw, Monbet settled in the one by one running line early before driver Ricky May set him alight at the 1400 metres mark to burst forward and grab the lead off Stent.  Attacked a couple of times during the last round, Monbet simply ran away and hid when Ricky asked him for an effort on the corner. Monbet won easing down by 2 3/4 lengths with Ricky hardly moving in the bike. Speeding Spur got home well from three back on the inner to grab second in front of a game One Over Da Moon with Stent a disappointing fourth. A minor highlight of the race was the performance of Prince Fearless who after galloping wildly early and settling a long way from them, was three wide for most of the last lap and stuck on well for a great fifth. It was win number thirteen for Monbet's at just his twenty third start and took his earnings over the $270,000 mark. Monbet  trotted the 2700 metres in 3:22.9, a mile rate of 2:00.9 with closing sectionals of 56.6 and 27.5. Ricky May was all smiles when he came back to the winners circle. " He did that really easy to be honest." " He is really so much more settled this season. " Those couple of breakers around him early didn't affect him at all." " Once he got to the front, I was really confident they wouldn't beat him." " He is clearly the top trotter in New Zealand at the moment," Ricky said. Trained by Greg and Nina Hope, Australians will get to see Monbet later in the season when travels with Mossdale Conner to Victoria Harnesslink Media 

Harness racing driver Ricky May is never one to rate a horse unless he is very confident in its ability. When we were doing the Harnesslink ringaround prior to Christmas, Ricky had a lot of handy drives at Westport the first day but settled on Seel The Deal. He was adament that if you could just hold him up for one run, Seel The Deal had a blinding burst of speed which not many on the coast would be able to deal with. The first day just didn't pan out at all with Seel The Deal getting all the wrong breaks and ending up an unlucky fifth. Yesterday Ricky had Seel The Deal away well to trail the talented Idealindiamonds but then ended up three back when Living Legend took up the lead. Seel The Deal was still three back on the inner as they turned for home and his chances didn't look great but when Idealindiamonds which had moved into the passing lane ran out a touch, Ricky and Seel The Deal were through in an instant and but for a rough stride eighty metres out would have won by a lot more than three quarters of a length. Ricky had that told you so look on his face post race when speaking to Harnesslink. " If he can get a run like that, he has a devastating sprint" " I didn't think the gap was going to open at first but Idealindiamonds ran out a touch half way up the straight. " It was a tight gap and I was just about through when I had to check him off Idealindiamonds when he was really flying which is why he put that rough stride in. " Otherwise I think he would have won by several lengths the way he was going," Ricky said. The trainer Grant McStay has had a lot of luck with this family over a long time especially on the grass track circuits. The result of the race was a great advertisement for the Woodlands stallion American Ideal who produced the trifecta in Seel The Deal, Idealindiamonds and Star Of Dionysis. Harnesslink Media   

Riga Doon is one of those horses that most harness racing enthusiasts would love to own. His wins are spaced a fair way apart but he puts in 110% every start and is never far away from the action. Lacking a bit of high end speed, he is often put into the race early on which does leave him a bit of a sitting duck in most of his races. Yesterday was one of those times where things fell into place for Riga Doon and he notched up win number three on the second day of the Westport Christmas meeting. A bold second on the first day of the meeting to Albuquerque, Riga Doon showed further improvement with the run  Restrained by driver Ricky May from his wide draw, Riga Doon settled last in the eleven horse field before Ricky sent him forward three wide to find the death seat with just under a lap to go. Parked out for the rest of the journey, Riga Doon just kept on giving and prevailed in a tight finish by a neck over the highly regarded Bettor Be Smooth. Bred by Cavalla Bloodstock, Riga Doon is a full brother to the brilliant racemare Carabella 1:55.2 ($693,615) but was able to be leased by Judy May and the Phillips brothers as he had a major gait issue when first tried. Driver Ricky May can't believe the changes in the horse since they first got him " He use to hit his knees fairly hard when we first got him and that was the only reason we were able to lease a horse with his breeding." " Kerry Estreich has done an unbelievable job with his shoeing to the point he doesn't touch a knee any more and the spreaders are no longer required." " I brought the spreaders over with us just in case he didn't handle the tricky turns at Westport but he paced beautifully the whole way both days." " He is no star but he gives his all every start so he is always a chance to get some money," Ricky said. The five year old son of Bettor's Delight is never going to reach the heights of his illusturios full sister Carabella but there are still a few more wins in him yet. Harnesslink Media  

It is not uncommon for children of harness racing trainers to try to follow in the footsteps of their parents. Around the industry throughout their life, they try to carve out a career in harness racing in their own right. One who is about to head down that path is Ben Hope. His parents Greg and Nina Hope are at the elite level of the industry in New Zealand and are having a stellar season through the performances of both Monbet and Mossdale Conner. Ben has been enthralled with harness racing from an early age. " I can remember riding in the cart with dad when I was really young." " From there I progressed to Kids Kartz where I had a bit of success with a couple of ponies called Pepper and Bonnie." "I had my first drive on a horse when I was eleven when I drove Jason Rulz which was a big thrill," Ben told Harnesslink this afternoon. Now aged sixteen, Ben has had a few drives at workouts to date for his parents . " So far I have had seven drives for three wins and a second so so far so good." "In the next eighteen months I plan to have plenty more drives at the workouts and to get better with the stopwatch with a view to becoming a junior driver when I turn eighteen." " At this stage I want to focus more on the driving side of the industry." "I have one more year at school and then I will go to work for mum and dad," Ben said. As you would expect, Ben rates his parents as the best trainers he has had contact with while Ricky May is the the top of the driving ranks in Ben's opinion. Ben has already dabbled in the ownership side of the industry, buying the Love You mare Unyielding Spirit for $5,000 " She has won a couple to date and over $20,000 in stakes and been placed in 2:00.1  " She hasn't got much longer on the track as she is in foal to Peak," Ben said. Of all the horses coming through the ranks at the Hopes barn, Ben has a lot of time for a two year old. " He is a two year old called Kingslayer who is a three quarter brother to the former outstanding two year old, Ohoka Arizona." " He may not race at two, but I know dad thinks a lot of him," Ben said. Ben is already quite well known to Trackside viewers as he frequently fronts the interviews for the Hope barn. " I was quite nervous the first time but now I have got use to it I really enjoy it." It is something I would like to do a bit more of in the future,"Ben said.  With his grounding in the industry and his level headed approach to things, Ben Hope is a name to post in your notebook for the future. Harnesslink Media  

What began as a spectacular start to the month of December for French stallion Love You became a sensational one last Friday night, with Franco-American’s stock dominating a harness racing premier night at Alexandra Park in Auckland. There were four trotting races at Alexandra Park, and Love You’s progeny won three of them, through new sensation Monbet in the feature event, the Group II Rosslands Lyell Creek Stakes  while La Reveur and Yagunnkissmeornot were also winners. And in the other race Love You’s offspring were second (Courcheval)  and third and (Lothario). But it was Monbet’s  performance in the feature which stole the show, prompting his driver Ricky May, the winner of seven NZ Trotting Cups, and both the Dominion Handicap and Rowe Cup, to declare the horse to be the best trotter he has driven. “Stylish Monarch was a good horse, but this one is on another level, but right from the start I knew he was going to be so good,” said May, who first drove him in a trial as a two-year-old, where he says the horse’s ability was immediately apparent. May says Monbet has several attributes which make him so good. “His gait is number one, he has a fantastic gait, from the first time I got on him as a two-year-old I knew he was going to be great by the way he went. Monbet has a pretty good attitude to racing, and has plenty of stamina, which was really tested for the first time in the Lyell Creek Stakes, says May, where the Greg Hope-trained 4YO was forced to sit parked for most of the journey outside no other than two-time Dominion Handicap winner Master Lavros, but still had the ability to go clear at the finish. Love You's stock have been firing at Auckland, where trotting races make up about 40 percent of the card, with Courcheval and La Maitre Dix winning at the start of the month, and La Reveur and Yagunnakissmeornot winning the following week, the latter in a quinella with another Love You product, Lothario the full brother to champion Habibti. And at Addington on Friday night, Bordeaux, made it two wins for the month and three wins in four starts for Phillip Iggo. Love You’s coming of age in Down Under trotting scene is great news for New Zealand breeders, where the stallion’s semen recently became available again through Haras des Trotters. A champion sire in six countries, Love You has not been available so far in Australia, but his tiny numbers of imported progeny have already proved successful  with Amore Stride,  Topnotch Jewel and Kvintet Avenger  winning at Group I level and the exciting mare Arboe, a Group 2 winner about to resume racing shortly. His progeny have won top races all over the  world including the Prix d’Amerique (Royal Dream), Elitloppet (Nahar) and Trotting Masters Final (Ed You). Love You’s offspring have been well to the fore this month too in France as the lucrative Winter Season gets into full swing. Bellina Josselyn won the rich Group  II Prix Ariste Hemard this month, while Village Mystic was third in the Prix d’Amerique qualifier, Prix du Bourbonnais, earning points for the second straight race and looks certain to make the field. Love You is also starting to make his name as a broodmare sire, with the most talked about horse in Europe, Bold Eagle being out of a Love You mare. Rosslands Lyell Creek Stakes (Mobile Trot) Harnesslink Media

Leading into last nights $40,000 Lyell Creek Stakes at the harness racing meeting at Alexandra Park, the jury was well and truly out on who the best trotter in the country was. Stent, Master Lavros and Monbet all had supporters and those supporters could all make a case as to why 'their' horse should be rated number one. In the two minutes, forty four point six seconds it took to run last nights race, the question of who was the current top dog amongst the trotters was well and truly settled. Ricky May sent Monbet forward from barrier seven but he was caught three wide for the first 800 metres before finding the death seat. Mark Jones on Master Lavros had managed to find Monbet's back early in the race and had followed him around three wide at which point Mark Jones pressed on and found the front with just over 1200 metres to go, again leaving Monbet parked out. Stent from the outside of the second line had managed to slot in to four back in the running line but was a fair way off his adversaries with a lap to go. Mark Jones and Master Lavros applied the afterburners down the back straight in 28.3 which had quite a few in the field struggling but Monbet hadn't gone anywhere and it was obvious on the corner that these two would fight out the finish. Shortly after they straightened, Monbet just changed gear and went sailing on past for an emphatic victory by 2 1/4 lengths from Master Lavros with a further 2 3/4 lengths back to Prime Power. Stent made ground late when it was all over to finish fourth. Monbet trotted the 2200 metres in 2:44.6, a mile rate of 2:00.4 with closing sectionals of 56.4 and 28.1 The son of Love You has now won twelve from twenty two and over $228,000 in his career to date. Driver Ricky May was fulsome in his praise of Monbet. " He just went absolutely super tonight." " He got a bit keen early on when one of his earplugs came out but he came back to me fairly quickly." " I didn't mind sitting parked as he relaxes so well out there." " He gave me an incredible feel out there tonight and won that so easily." " There is no doubt that he is the best trotter I have ever driven and I think he proved tonight that he is the best trotter in the country at the moment," Ricky said  Greg and Nina Hope have done a wonderful job of looking after Monbet through his two and three year old seasons and are now starting to reap the reward for that patience. Harnesslink Media

Just recently, we applauded the JCA for the manner in which they had handled the Kevin Morton 'race cafe' case and how they had enhanced their reputation in doing so. Unfortunately within a few weeks they have had a shocker with the Zac Butcher case in the New Zealand Free For All during Cup Week. The reasoning that the two JCA representatives Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles put forward for their decision in this case shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of harness racing. The case revolves around Zac Butcher puncturing the tyre of Mossdale Conner when he went inside the markers before the passing lane in the $250,000 NZFFA. Ricky May was furious post race, stating that Zac had tried to get inside Mossdale Conner before the passing lane was available and in doing so had punctured his trye, costing Mossdale Conner the win. But Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles were firmly of the view that Mossdale Conner's winning chances weren't affected as the hearing transcript shows. "Given the performance of ‘Mossdale Conner’ in the final 250m of the race, it is not clear that that horse demonstrably suffered as a result of the flat tyre." "It cannot be said that the horse would have won the race but for the flat tyre." "On the contrary, after the interference ‘Mossdale Conner’ appeared to continue on with a strong run and was only beaten within metres of the winning post by a fast finishing ‘Tiger Tara’. The margin was a nose." So in the minds of Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles, Mossdale Conner drags a flat tyre for 275 metres and he didn't have his winning chances affected due to the flat tyre. The reality is there is absolutely no doubt at all that the flat tyre cost Mossdale Conner the win. That they think otherwise is to show a complete lack of knowledge and understanding on behalf of Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles of the industry they are meant to be policing. But it gets worse when the two gentlemen come to the penalty for this offence. The starting point for careless driving in a major race is suspension. How long that suspension is should be determined by the circumstances of each case. In this instance Mr Ydgren for the plaintiff suggested a starting point of 3-4 days. Mr Lawson on behalf of Zac Butcher suggested three days or two days and a small fine so he could fulfill commitments he had in upcoming weeks. But Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles ignored those guidelines and imposed an $800 fine instead. So not only have Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles completely misread the impact the punctured tyre has had on the chances of Mossdale Conner, they have then gone outside their own guidelines when it comes to penalty.  Their reasoning is as follows. "However, the committee is of the view that to suspend Mr Z Butcher for this careless driving would be a disproportionate response to his actual culpability and taking into account the overall circumstances, Mr Butcher’s very good record and the practical difficulties in suspending him as outlined by Mr Lawson on his behalf the committee is of the view that he can be dealt with by way of fine." Now contrary to what the two gentlemen say above, Zac has a bit of form when it comes to stepping outside of the rules in big races. Last December Zac pushed The Orange Agent out with over 1000 metres to go in the $138,000 Sires Stakes Final at Alexandra Park which tookThe Orange Agent right out of the race which Zac went onto win with Democrat Party. It cost the betting public a small fortune as The Orange Agent was a hot favourite that day. For that offence Zac was fined the princely sum of $300 which caused an uproar at the time. Now Zac has done it again and he has escaped very lightly once again. There are consequences for drivers and trainers when they get things wrong on raceday. What are the consequences for Mr Jackson and Mr Knowles, when in a case such as this one they got it so terribly wrong. Harnesslink Media.

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