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By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    The joy of winning his 50th race for the season was written all over Robbie Close’s face.   “It was pretty incredible really,  getting to 50 is not easy”, he said. After driving Jenabella  ($11.40 and $3.10)  to victory in race 3 at Addington on Sunday Close celebrated the achievement by poking his tongue out in the direction of Blair Orange who’d run second with Pembrook Tilly. It’s his version of the Pukana that is the trademark of both Blackcap Ross Taylor and jockey Michael Walker.   “I only do that in some races, the ones I’m happy to win on.” The win is the latest milestone in a season that his best yet, despite the two month break because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Previously his best was the 42-win season he had in 2015. That was the year he was New Zealand’s Champion Junior Driver, and won the Australasian Young Drivers Championship as well. Career wise Close – or “The Goose” as he’s nicknamed -  has won 277 races from 2976 drives for a UDR of .1728 though his strike rate this season has been .2252.   Two horses stand out in the 50 victories, Ariella’s win in the Caduceus Club of Southland/Alabar two-year-old Fillies Classic at Ascot Raceway on March 7 and Splash Cola beating the likes of Marcoola, Enhance Your Calm and Pres the Belle at Addington on February 28 for his employer and good mate Regan Todd. In both races Close was snookered three back on the fence, and both won at double figure odds (Ariella $19.40 and $6.10) and Splash Cola  ($16.60 and $3.90). “Next season I just want to do the same – just keep the winners ticking over.” Though he does have one more specific target. “I’d really like to win a Group One.” He isn’t fussy – any Group 1 will do -  and we all know how he’d celebrate that. 

After three years as All Stars Junior driver and backup for the senior ones, Matt Anderson is moving on from All Stars at the end of the season. He has no immediate plans for his next racing experience but is preparing for his last season as a Junior and hoping to make the most of it. "I've leaned so much here it is unbelievable. I have been lucky to work in a stable  this successful and get first hand experience of how it all operates. It is not so easy to get stable drives when so many of the races are top events but I know that what I take away from here is the basis for the next stage of my career. And you wouldn't get a better basis to work on" Matt has reached a lot of his Junior Driver goals accumulating 68 wins, his UDR remaining a good .2451. Unlike most juniors Matt has turned down drives at times to protect his strike rate with a view to higher achievements and, except for the year when the rules of selection were altered for a Championship series without him being aware of the change it has worked out well. Matt has shown growing skills and maturity at All Stars and is recognised as one of the most promising Juniors in the business quite apart from success rates.   His first winner, for a mentor Robbie Holmes, was Highview Ember at Rangiora in August 2013 a season when he posted 7 wins from 57 drives to get away to a good start. He transferred to All Stars in 2014 and posted his first win for the stable in July of that year with Better With Bourbon at Rangiora.  Four of his first season winners were trotters for Ken Sefonte and he also drove a winner for Maurice McKendry a man who can recognise talent and for Lew Driver.  Most of his 2015 season wins were for All Stars including horses like Backup, Lightfingered, Full Speed Ahead and Northern Velocity . Last season he again struck up an affinity for the trotter winning three with Blackguard's Corner including the rich John Devlin Memorial at Alexandra Park for the Butterworths but posted his biggest pacing win when Costa Del Magnifico which he had earlier steered to an 11.5 len win in a Junior race, won the Invercargill Cup. He scored a notable win for Piccadilly Princess in a Nevele R heat holding out favoured stablemate Golden Goddess. This season Smiley Sophie have him his first win on NZ Cup day and Pulp Fiction was another smart performer he guided to victory,  His last win was his easiest-on Imperial Whiz in a Breeder's Crown heat at Addington. He didn't have to leave the parade ring,  One of his biggest thrills came however when he finally made the Australasian Junior Drivers Championship in Perth this season run in conjunction with the Inter Dominions It was the most memorable fortnight in the young driver's life. Using the deft hands which were advancing his reputation he overcame some ordinary prospects in pre-post odds to finish third but actually on the same points total (71) as second placed Robbie Close and just two points behind winner Todd McCarthy. Yet Matt remembers Perth for a different reason. "I think watching Smolda fight out that Inter Dominion finish was the biggest thrill I had in my stay here.  It was our stable horse, he was such a great horse to work with and Mark and Natalie had him just right. I got a real thrill out of just being there to watch that" But Matt gave his share of thrills to others don't worry. A thoughtful person he sorted out the Ronald McDonald House for children with illness as his charity of choice. His fees from Perth were part of that generosity and one of his two sponsors, McMillan Feeds added their share. His other sponsor Coupland Bakeries is also notable for its work with charities. Matt has continued to support Ronald McDonald House, which does not get the official assistance of some similar charities ,  with his driving fees a fine gesture for a youngster still making his own way. He helped organise a young cancer sufferer Isaac  Southerton come out to All Stars and introduced the little fellow to the stable stars  including Lazarus.  And so what happens next ? "I've had several offers but I am not in any hurry. I have quite a lot of leave owing from All Stars so I will be taking that up for some time.  Then I will see what develops. I don't doubt I will miss it around here especially when the good horses are out but I am looking forward to the next opportunity" There is also a rising two year old whom Matt invested in at the PGG Sales this year. But that is another chapter in the story. Harnesslink Media Courtesy of All Stars Stables www.allstarsracingstables.com

In what could be considered one of the drop backs of the season, there’s only one serious concern for Hopeful Harriet ahead of her assignment at Nelson today. And that concern is herself. The dour little Regan Todd trained mare drops from a Group One Harness Jewels Diamond last Saturday to a Rating 50-65 event today on the opening day of the Nelson Harness Racing Club’s winter meeting and her driver Robbie Close is confident that will make her super competitive. “We’ve just got to get the first bit right,” Close said of the stand start affair. “It’s probably not so much the actual stand start, but she tends to get a little rough after 100 metres or so, but if we can get through that then we should be right in amongst it I would have thought.” Beaten 25 lengths behind Piccadilly Princess last Saturday, Hopeful Harriet’s performance in the Group One was probably better than what it may have initially looked. Close was more than happy with the effort too. “She was going to run in the top five I think, but she got the speed wobbles around that last bend. “So her effort actually looks a lot worse than it was.” The pair have a good record when they travel to the top of the South Island having won the Marlborough Cup earlier this year and they’ve placed twice on the course before as well. They meet an even field today with the in-form It’s All Over Now appearing to be one of their toughest opposition. Close has a strong book of drives throughout the day including Hopeful Harriet but rated Terrier for John Bartlett as one of his better hopes. “I would like to think Harriet will be my best chance, but Terrier is going good races without a lot of luck and I think with a bit more of that we can get a slice of that race. “Sunny Bill wouldn’t be the worst either if he trotted all the way.” He also drives debutant Lily Ducket, newcomer to the Regan Todd barn My Nikayla, Got A Beauty and Paul’s Verdict.   Selections by Matt Markham Race 1: Mr Farenheit, Ali Lindenny, Girlz N Boys, Star Pride Race 2: Boults On Fire, Beach Skipper, Rishi, Mister Slick Race 3: J Nine, My Nikayla, Fear Rockn, Playingintheshadows Race 4: Spondulicks, Theboyslightup, Chelsea Ella, Command Lustre Race 5: Trouble Giero, Redwood Invasion, Jayceekay, Bacardi N Coke Race 6: Takitimu Express, Bella Jones, Exceptional Man, Born Again Delight Race 7: Gunpowder, Cullenz Diamond, Jakira, Terrier Race 8: Benicio, Alpha Rock, Culley Backy, Bevan’s Cullen Race 9: Hopeful Harriet, It’s All Over Now, Our Quinn, Emily Blunt Race 10: Billy Badger, Ace High, Hypervelocity, English Rose Best Bet: Billy Badger (Race 10) Value: Hopeful Harriet (Race 9)

John Bartlett is considering starting a campaign to get harness racing to the West Coast more often and when you look at the Ashworth’s Beach trainer’s record you can understand why. The relatively new trainer to the training ranks of Canterbury, in just his third season, picked up his first winning double on Sunday at Reefton when two new acquisitions to his stable, Terrier and King Size were successful. It continued a great run for Bartlett on the Coast with five of his eight career wins coming on the western side of the Southern Alps. “I’ve had a pretty good run over there, surely they could race there a bit more often,” Barlett said. “It’s a place I can target horses for and we actually purchased Terrier because we thought he could win a race over there.” From just a small racing team, the results of the North Canterbury trainer make for compelling reading. He’s had 64 starters in his two and half seasons of training for eight wins and nine placings - often with horses who he has picked up off other trainers. With three in work at the moment, he’s keeping busy enough - doing the majority of his training on the beach or around a paddock at his property beside the main road through to Amberley. “Three is enough at the moment, and to get two wins with them in one day was great. “The other horse, Got A Beauty, should pick one up at some point in the season you would think, he just needs the luck that the other two got on Sunday.” Bartlett continued his association with Robbie Close at the weekend with the talented young horseman on both of his winners. Close has driven six of Bartlett’s winners now with Katie Cox on board Young Mister Grace when he won at the same Reefton meeting last year and Dexter Dunn on Verdun when he gave Bartlett his first success as a trainer at Forbury in October of 2014. “I like using the lightweight drivers, especially on the grass. “Robbie is a good young driver and it was actually him who recommended we buy Terrier after he had driven him a couple of times.” Bartlett admitted to not having had both horses long prior to heading to the Coast and said he took two horses, along with Got A Beauty, over the hills in pretty good fettle. “I thought they all went well on the first day, King Size got a little wound up by a false start which didn’t help him. “But they got the right luck that you need and both got the job done so it was a good result.” There’s nine months until racing returns to the West Coast at Christmas, but you can bet your last dollar that Bartlett already had one eye on the meeting as he looks to continue his great record there. “It’s a great place to go with a horse, they’re great people who really look after you when you are over there. “We will be going back for sure.” Matt Markham

A $15 chance for tonight’s Premier Mares’ Championship at Addington, Hopeful Harriet isn’t being given much hope of success. But that’s not stopping the dour mare’s trainer, Regan Todd, from thinking she can get herself in on the action if things happen to fall in the right places for her during the Group 2 $40,000 event. A brilliant winner of the Marlborough Cup two starts back, the diminutive mare has shown a real liking for a dog fight and may get conditions to suit tonight from a good barrier draw. “Her win at Blenheim showed she is capable of doing it,” Todd said. “I wouldn’t read too much into her last start, in fact I think we will forget it, and just base it on what she did when she won. “I’ve been really happy with her work this week so hopefully we are on the right track.” Drawn barrier three, Hopeful Harriet has the slight disadvantage of having two speedy mares drawn inside her in Bronze Over and C A Penny, but there’s some confidence she can hold her own out of the gate if she needs to. “I’ll be leaving it to Robbie (Close), he can judge things once they are out there. But if we had to ask her to run a bit early I think she would. “Ideally it’s a case of getting ourselves into the best possible spot and seeing what happens from there. “But I’d like to think she’s a bit of a chance, it’s not a field of stars, just some nice honest mares.” Todd has just one other runner engaged at the meeting in Righteous Brother who, despite some strong recent efforts was opened at $33 last night due to the fact he takes on an incredibly strong field including the likes of; The Honey Badger, Rakapuka Ruler, Don Domingo, A G’s Whitesocks and Cash N Flow. “He’s probably a place chance at best in a field like that, but he’ll begin quick and put himself in the race.” Todd will be able to get his most high-pressure moment of the night out of the way early too when Master Lavros steps out in the Summer Trotting Free-For-All. As the pseudo trainer of the two-time Dominion winner, Todd knows better than anyone how the big trotter is progressing. And he’s been pretty happy this week. “I’ve noticed he’s stepped up a bit since that last run, his work yesterday (Wednesday) was very good I thought. “But it won’t be easy from out wide over 1950 so we will just be happy if he does everything right and gets around safely and pulls up sound.” Life won’t be easy for Master Lavros though with Marcoola returning to the mix for the event while other good performers like Harriet Of Mot and Everybody Knows are also engaged in the race. Super Selector - Addington - By Matt Markham Race 1: Spanish Armada, Delightful Memphis, Trendy Bromac, Pick My Pocket Race 2: Bailey’s Knight, Let It Ride, Hilarious Magic, Articulight Race 3: Le Reveur, Hey Yo, Habibti Ivy, Gershwin Race 4: Mrs Browns Boys, The Valiant, Culley Backy, Our Quinn Race 5: Marcoola, Master Lavros, Everybody Knows, Harriet Of Mot Race 6: Tiger Thompson, Gotta Go Ya Hu, Real Obsession, Wanted Man Race 7: Classie Brigade, Captain Dolmio, Christen Me, Locharburn Race 8: Rakapuka Ruler, Don Domingo, A G’s Whitesocks, Cash N Flow Race 9: Heaven Rocks, Ears Burning, Cable Beach, Buster Brady Race 10: Queen Bee Bardon, Better B Amazed, CA Penny, Hopeful Harriet Race 11: Chevron Express, All Settled Down, Lavros Jack, Redwood Invasion Race 12: Franco Hampton, Bettor To Be Tricky, Molly Sims, Makers Mark Best Bet: Tiger Thompson (Race 6) Value: Hey Yo (Race 3)

A decision by Dexter Dunn to drive at Wyndham today over Blenheim could result in good fortune for those who picked up the champion driver’s drives at Waterlea Raceway in Blenheim. Dunn was to be driving at the meeting in the Marlborough region, but the postponement of yesterday’s Wyndham meeting and its shift to today, left the current premiership leader with a decision to make on where he would drive today. Dunn’s current closest rival, Blair Orange elected to head back to Canterbury and head up to Blenheim, but Dunn decided to fulfil his engagements in Wyndham leaving some nice pick-up drives for those already up for the two-day meeting. Robbie Close was one of the biggest winners, securing the steer on the exciting intermediate grade trotter Arditi for Blenheim local, Dean Hunter. “It’s a nice one to pick up,” Close said. “The runs on the West Coast were really good and it looks to have a bit of a future.” Hunter has a strong hand to play in the feature race of the day with his three trotters all engaged with Arditi joining Lady Beatrix Bourbon and Nelson winner, Destiny Jones. All three were winners on the recent West Coast circuit. Craig Thornley is another to have picked up a nice drive in the form of the Jamie Gameson trained, Franco Hampton who hasn’t been seen since running seventh behind Thefixer on Cup Day at Addington. With an abundance of gate speed the Christian Cullen colt may be able to slot himself into a forward position and get a good chance to secure another victory. The other of Dunn’s notable drives at Blenheim is Miss Daisy who has been picked up by Ross Houghton. A member of the Robert Dunn stable, Miss Daisy ran a big second at Ashburton on Boxing Day when second behind her stablemate American Tart and with a cushy run on the cards today she gets a good chance to grab another victory. Her toughest opposition will be another stablemate, Billy Badger who was a big winner on the first day of the Nelson meeting. As they did last week, the Dunn stable is expected to be right in the thick of the action again today with an ominous looking line up of runners. They’ve got nine runners engaged at Waterlea, one at Wyndham and four at Cambridge tonight.   Super Selector – By Matt Markham Race 1: Reign On Me, IW McNik, Tehoro Dazzle, Zsa Ziva Race 2: Born Again Delight, Goldiloch, Smooth N Easy, Gotta Ticket Race 3: Runaway Three, Hayden’s Meddle, Titanium, Idealagain Race 4: Crackabella, Man Of Steel, Danse McAabre, Nova Time Race 5: Arditi, Destiny Jones, Muscles Galore, Redwood Invasion Race 6: Kitura, Lolita Franco, Dana Dawn, Sauciehall Race 7: Billy Badger, Miss Daisy, Smithy, Eh Ef El Race 8: She’s A Flyin, Gotta Go Ya Hu, Franco Hampton, Scotlyn Jack Best Bet: Billy Badger (Race 7) Value: Crackabella (Race 4)

Breaking droughts quickly became the modus operandi for grass track racing at Rangiora on Sunday. A number of winners throughout the day’s racing action were putting behind them long sequences without success and, in some cases, tasting success for the first time after numerous attempts. There was no more deserving winner on the programme however than maiden trotter, Native’s Brite Gem. Having start 46 for her career the daughter of Britewell finally dispersed off her maiden status when she led all the way to win the opening race of the day for Austin Thornton and Robbie Close. On seven previous occasions she’d finished second. Often looking the winner 100 metres from the post only to be run down in the dying stages, but there was none of that on Saturday as the free-wheeling mare began to clear away from her rivals inside the final 50 metres. Rusty I Am, a five-year-old son of Sundon and Awesome I Am was the next cab off the rank when he broke through for his first win in the second maiden trot of the day for co-trainer and driver, Pip Wakelin Wakelin, who trains in partnership with Steven Noble, put her charge into the race at the right time and he staved off the challenge of hot favourite, Ace Commander, to win at start 26 after looking more than likely on a number of occasions. Justin and Lynn Smith also found themselves in the winners’ circle when All Lit Up picked up the sixth win of his 54 start career later in the day having not saluted the judge for 24 starts. The wonderfully bred son of Sundon last won a race in August of 2015. The run of drought breaking continued when Caesar’s Quest, who had been side-lined with injury, caused the upset of the day when sneaking home ahead of Augusta at massive odds grabbing his first win since September of 2014. The John McDermott trained pacer had finished fifth in his previous start behind Kardesler at Motukarara but was never given a hope by punters on Sunday paying a massive $63.50 for the win. Another injury casualty, Nolan Sackett was the other returnee to the winners’ circle. The talented Roger Winter trained pacer put together an impressive record in his maiden season, winning twice and placing on four occasions from seven starts with his only miss a fourth at Addington at the end of his last campaign. The Badlands Hanover six-year-old ran a solid fourth behind Cable Beach at Ashburton but wasn’t to be denied on Sunday, finishing stylishly near the outside fence to win in the hands of Matty Williamson.    Matt Markham

It was a case of close, but no cigar, for the Kiwi quartet in the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship. The kiwi four of Robbie Close, Matt Anderson, Kyle Marshall and Brad Williamson all finished in the top six in the week-long competition in Western Australia. The competition was taken out by New South Welshman, Todd McCarthy. Close and McCarthy went into the final night of racing at Gloucester Park on Friday night locked together, while four other drivers could have snared the major prize with a victory – dependent on other results. The race was taken out by hometown hero, Stuart McDonald who was well down on the leader board which left the door open for any number of drivers to claim the top prize. For the Kiwis, Matt Anderson gave himself the best chance of snatching a victory with his third placing, but it wasn’t enough with McCarthy, who finished down the track, claiming more points than close to give him a total of 73 points and the series win. Close and Anderson were the next best on 71 points each – with the defending champion, Close, getting the nod for overall second placing on a countback while Anderson had to settle for third. Marshall, who produced consistent results throughout the series was next in fourth while Nathan Dawson of Queensland finished just ahead of Brad Williamson in the next two spots. All four of the Kiwi contingent tasted success in the nine-race series with six of the races falling to the foursome. Close, Williamson and Marshall are all out of the junior ranks now but Anderson has a chance of getting himself to the next championship in two years with his time in the junior ranks set to extend for another couple of seasons. Final Standings: Todd McCarthy (NSW) – 73 Robbie Close (NZ) – 71 Matt Anderson (NZ) – 71 Kyle Marshall (NZ) - 69 Nathan Dawson (QLD) - 67 Brad Williamson (NZ) – 65 Jayson Finnis -(SA) – 61 Stuart McDonald (WA) - 46 Jason Lee (VIC) - 41 Wade Rattray (TAS) – 30   Matt Markham

New Zealand harness racing junior driver Robbie Close is still tied for the lead in the Australiasan Young Drivers Championships with one race left in the series.  Brad Williamson managed to get a win yesterday at  Narrogin after several placings in the earlier heats. Brad won aboard All About The Cash when he led all the way from barrier two with Robbie Close second driving Mon Alisa Jet. After yesterdays Narrogin heat Robbie Close is tied in the lead with Todd McCarthy (NSW) on 69 points with a further six points back to another kiwi Kyle Marshall on 63 points. In the event of a tie, the driver with the most victories shall be declared winner. If still tied, the greater number of seconds and so on until the winner is declared. Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship Points Table: Robbie Close (NZ)            69 Todd McCarthy (NSW)   69 Kyle Marshall (NZ)           63 Matt Anderson (NZ)       62 Nathan Dawson (QLD)    60 Brad Williamson (NZ)     60 Jayson Finnis (SA)            49 Jason Lee (VIC)                40 Stuart McDonald (WA)   29 Wade Rattray (TAS)         27   Harnesslink Media

Harness racing junior driver Robbie Close is still leading the way in the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship. After the second day of racing at Pinjarra yesterday, kiwis Matt Anderson and Kyle Marshall both walked away with wins, while Brad Williamson managed a pair of placings. Anderson started with favourite Im Rockaria in the first heat. He had the son of Rocknroll Hanover parked early before leading the rest of the way and winning easily. Ive Got It All driven by New South Wales representative Todd Mcarthy, was second and Brad Williamson running third behind Art Lover. Matt Anderson donated his driving fees to the Ronald McDonald House. Kyle Marshall won the second heat with Sir Slick from the second row and beat C C Chevron, who was driven by Nathan Dawson.  Brad Williamson again took a placing behind All The Torque. Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship Point Table: Robbie Close (NZ)            49 Todd McCarthy (NSW)   47 Matt Anderson (NZ)       40 Kyle Marshall (NZ)           38 Nathan Dawson (QLD)    36 Brad Williamson (NZ)     32 Jason Lee (VIC)  3 (9)       30 Jayson Finnis (SA)            24 Stuart McDonald (WA)   18 Wade Rattray (TAS)         16   Harnesslink Media

The chance to pit themselves against some of Australia’s best young talents and experience harness racing in another country has some of New Zealand’s youngest driving stars excited about the week ahead. Robbie Close, Matt Anderson, Kyle Marshall and Brad Williamson departed New Zealand yesterday (Thursday) to head to Western Australia to compete in the biannual Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship - charged with the hopes of a country on their young shoulders. The Kiwi quartet, along with six of the best youngsters in Australasia will go head-to-head in a 10 race series over the next week, with the final race of the series held on Inter Dominion Grand Final night at Gloucester Park. For Close, the most experience of the four, it’s an exciting prospect. “I can’t wait to get over there and get into it,” he said. “It’s a real honour to represent your country and I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity.” Despite losing his junior driver licence at the end of the 2015-2016 season, Close is allowed to compete in the series by virtue of the fact he is the defending champion of the Series and that he still fits into the required age bracket. “I never even really thought about it to be honest so it was pretty overwhelming to get the news.” Close won the Series when it was held in New Zealand two years ago in a brilliant display of driving and he will be looking to repeat the dose in Western Australia. “It’s a very strong crop of drivers, there is some real experience in there. Guys like Jason Lee and Todd McCarthy have driven in some pretty big races so it’s going to be a real test on their home turf. “But any of us four Kiwi guys are capable of giving it a really good shake I reckon, and it’s going to be a great group to be a part of and to spend some time with.” Just one win shy of 150 career wins, Close said he had searched out the advice of some New Zealand drivers who had experienced racing in Western Australia and been busying himself with watching plenty of racing. “I hit up the likes of Dexter Dunn and Gavin Smith about what it’s like and they were great and I’ve tried to watch as many races as I can from over there too.” For Anderson, who is still a relative new face in the driving ranks, the prospect of the experience is leaving him fizzing. “It’s going to be a really good experience to tick up and I’m looking forward to getting over there and doing my best to get some results on the board.” Like Close, Anderson has spent plenty of time pouring over videos and has plans to talk to his boss Mark Purdon, who is currently over there, when he arrives. “Mark and Natalie have three horses over there are the moment so I’ve been watching them race and looking at the racing pattern pretty closely. It’s completely different to the New Zealand style of racing, that’s for sure.” The competition kicks off on Friday night at Gloucester Park with the first heat at 11.15pm (NZT) before competition moves to Bunbury on Saturday for a further two races. There are then further heats at Pinjarra, Northam and Narrogin before it’s the final race of the series on Inter Dominion Grand Final night at Gloucester Park on December 9. Matt Markham

Brad Williamson will follow his brothers, Nathan and Matthew as a New Zealand representative in the Australasian Young Drivers Championship. Brad, along with Robbie Close, Kyle Marshall and Matt Anderson is representing NZ in the series which commences at Gloucester Park, Perth on Friday night (2/12/16) in conjunction with the Inter-Dominion series. The quartet are due to travel to Perth on Thursday. Heats are also run at Bunbury, Pinjarra, Northam and Narrogin in Western Australia with the series winding up at Gloucester Park on Inter-Dominion Final night, December 9. Brad is booked to drive at Invercargill the next day. Brad was the leading New Zealand junior driver last season with 70 wins; Close won the Australasian series in New Zealand last year; Marshall was the leading North Island Junior Driver last season and Anderson had the top UDR. It will be the first time Brad has driven in Australia. “I am looking forward to the trip. It should be good experience. I am hoping for some good horses with good draws,” he said. “I have discussed it a lot with Matthew over the last fortnight because we work together (at the Oamaru stable of father, Phil). He has told me about different rules that apply in Australia and a few other things.” Matthew finished second to Josh Dickie in the 2011 series in New Zealand and Nathan finished third to Danielle Hill (South Australia) and Stephen Reed (Western Australia) when the series was staged in Queensland in 2009. Matthew was the leading New Zealand Junior Driver in 2012-13 with 113 wins and Nathan was twice runner up to Dexter Dunn and second to Gavin Smith in New Zealand Junior Driver premierships. Matthew teamed with Dickie and Zac Butcher for the 2011 series, He finished seventh in the 2013 series in Queensland. Nathan was paired with Dunn and Bob Butt in 2009. Brad has made the transition to the ranks of open drivers with 12 wins this season. His trip to Australia has ruled him out of the “Brothers in Arms” series at his home track at Oamaru on Saturday (3/12/16). He was to have paired with Matthew. Nathan will continue his association with Matthew, a combination that won the series on grass last year and 2013. The Dunn brothers, Dexter and John have been replaced with the Hunters, Hamish and Peter as Dexter has driving commitments in Perth. The other brother combinations at Oamaru on Saturday are David and Philip Butcher (victors in 2010 and 2011); Ken and Clark Barron (successful in 2012), Jay and Sailesh Abernethy (2014), Gerard and Leo O’Reilly.   Tayler Strong

Ears Burning not only surprised a few people on course but also his trainer Nigel McGrath with the ease of his victory is today’s Kotare Downs Rangiora 3yo Stakes. A half brother to talented types in Fuoco, El Fuego and Burning, the 3yo Grinfromeartoear colt was bred Rankin Bloodstock Limited and I J Rule who still share in the ownership today. “The Rankin family have been big supporters of mine, they have had some nice horses before but it’s good to see them with another nice one in this guy (Ears Burning)” said trainer/driver Nigel McGrath. “Apart from a wee problem last start, he’s basically unbeaten and doing a really good job in all his races. He’s behind those good ones, but I think if he can qualify for the jewels, he would acquit himself well” Ears Burning currently sits 23rd on the jewels ladder after today’s victory, with just over $5,000.00 between him and the 12th placed Swamp Major. Away nicely from barrier 5, McGrath soon found himself parked, but soon cover arrived in the form of Wannabet (Blair Orange). That was the only move of the race and with everyone else happy to sit back as John Dunn and Bite The Bullet strolled along in front, McGrath found himself in a lovely 1x1 spot. When extricated to the outside with 400m, Ears Burning quickly found himself in front and burning away to win by 3 ¼ lengths back to another McGrath runner in Kashana. “He surprised me how easily he’s done that, we got a lovely run but it was a handy field and he won that comfortably” said Nigel. McGrath's star Classie Brigade has been sent for a freshen up. "Those runs behind Lazarus took it out of him, and Ricky said he just didn't feel as sharp as usual down south, he was a very tired horse last week, so he can have a freshen up and have a trial or two before the jewels"  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Christen Me’s return to the grand circuit took a huge leap today, when he won the Group 3 Dawe Contracting Ltd Rangiora Classic. Up against arch rival Locharburn, Christen Me was having his first race day run for the best part of 7 months, which saw him miss the 2015 NZ Cup. Driver Dexter Dunn fired the 7 year old Christian Cullen gelding across to lead early, but Mighty Flying Mac was quickly around to take over with Dunn happy to take a sit. Meanwhile main rival Locharburn was having a tough run sitting parked before receiving the 1x1 at the bell, it appeared early on that Christen Me was the likely winner. With Blair Orange launching Locharburn out from his spot at the 600m to deal it up to the leader, D Dunn was able to push out of the trail and follow Locharburn into it before these two top class horses went to war, with Christen Me sticking his head in front at the line to beat a super brave and tough Locharburn. The official margin was a head, with 10 ½ lengths back to early leader Mighty Flying Mac, who set up a NZ record equalling time, 3-06.5. Funny enough Christen Me now holds that record with today’s rival Locharburn who only set the record back in February’s summer cup at Addington. “He was super today, as he had to be to beat a brave Locharburn. It’s great to have him back” said trainer Cran Dalgety. “The Len Mile is a possibly target, all the big guns will be there and there isn’t much here for him.  The long term aim is the NZ cup but the inter dominions is also at the back of my mind. I’ll see how he comes through today’s run, but Sydney does look a great option” Check out our story on former New Zealander and Dalgety trained runner Bit Of  A Legend's win in America this morning on our New Zealand home page. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Meanwhile Rangiora driver Robbie Close saluted the judge twice today, winning on Claus for Stan Moore and Pay Me Visa for Andrew Stuart; both trainers are also based in Rangiora. Claus, a 3yo Tintin in America gelding, put the writing on the wall with a handy 3rd at Addington just 3days ago. Sent out as a $26.00 chance by punters, Robbie Close or “Goose” as he’s called around the stables, had Claus in front early but soon found himself 3 back the pegs and looking for a bit of luck. “He came out really well from the ace draw and got a lovely trip from then on. He hit the gap at the top of the straight nicely and was still trucking at the line, he will be a handy horse in 6months time” said Close. “It’s always nice to get a winner for the Moore’s, they are lovely people and Stan’s breed has produced some nice horses, it’s great to see them getting some success” Stan won the Rangiora Classic back in 2009 with his star Fake Chance, a winner of 12 from 127 starts including 27 placings; the Fake Left gelding was a regular in free for all races. While Claus isn’t at those heights yet, it’s always nice to see small trainers getting success on a large day. Robbie’s second winner came in the last race of the day for Rangiora Racecourse based trainer Andrew Stuart. Pay Me Visa, now a winner of 5 from 25 starts was having his first start on the all weather track today. “Being his first start on the grit, it was a question mark on how he would handle it. We got a decent trip and he was bolting on the turn, when he found some room he hit the line really nicely” said Close. A 4yo McArdle gelding owned by Andrew himself, rated the 2000m in 2-25 flat, a mile rate of 1.56.6 57.2 28.4. He paid $11.60 & $2.10 on the tote. By the look of today’s win, it certainly won’t be Pay Me Visa’s last. Andrew Fitzgerald  

When Harnesslink looked for a harness racing stable to preview for this years races at the Westport Xmas meeting, we decided to do a runner by runner assessment of Margo Nyhan's team with her partner Peter Davis doing most of the driving.   Margo and Peter were only too obliging in giving us what we needed but stressed when they had done similar previews in the past the team had gone terribly.   So after Game Changer missed away in race 1, they thought the preview curse would continue.   However race 4 put that theory to bed once and for all.   Stable runner Sarah Palin in the hands of Robbie Close stepped straight to the front which she held for the first 600 metres before the other stable runner The Zigmeister with Peter Davis in the bike zipped around to the front.   Keeping up a steady tempo mid race, The Zigmiester shot clear on the last corner and although October Rain and Gavin Smith closed quickly, The Zigmeister still had three quarters of a length to spare when he reached the finishing line.   To make matters even better for Margo and Peter, Sarah Palin stuck on well for third.   Peter thought The Zigmeister, a son of Monkey Bones, wouldn't be far away going by his recent runs in Canterbury.   “He went 3:22 for 2600 metres at Addington at his last start which makes him very competitive on the coast.”   “His main problem this season has been over racing in the field”   “However once he gets to the front, he relaxes beautiful and you could throw the reins in the dust sheet.”   “Once he got to the front today, I was pretty confident he would be hard to beat.”   “ He is still learning at this stage and I think there is a fair bit of improvement in him yet,” Peter said.   Harnesslink readers who took in the preview would have been thrilled with the $12:70 dividend that The Zigmeister paid today.   The Zigmeister     Harnesslink Media

Harness racing reinsman Robbie Close is now just one final hurdle away from his own near-perfect season. And you could bet your final dollar that the talented young horseman will be doing everything possible to overcome it. Close added the McMillians New Zealand Junior Driver Championships to his impressive season haul last night meaning he is both the New Zealand and Australasian Young Drivers Champion in the same season. But that wasn’t all. In winning the final of the three heats of last night’s competition on Pammy’s Boy, Close not only secured himself the championship, but brought up his 100th career driving win in the process. And he was pretty chuffed about both. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling to win my 100th race, but to do in these circumstances just makes it even better,’’ he said. But while the titles and accolades are all great, Close knows he’s got one more major assignment to tick off the list before the season ends and that’s getting his name at the top of the junior drivers premiership – a spot currently held by Stevie Golding. After Closes’ victory last night the margin is three with Golding picking up a winning double. “It’s going to be tough to peg Stevie back, but things are going pretty good so I’ll be giving it my best.’’ Heading into last night’s competition Close wasn’t all that confident of his chances. He picked up a vital third in the opening event of the night on The Persuader before sitting out the middle leg due to not being allocated a drive due to low numbers. In Pammy’s Boy, Close knew he had a horse capable and took luck out of the equation by sending the Murray Edmonds trained trotter straight to the front and dominating from there on. “It’s really nice to be able to achieve all this on one of Murray’s horses. “Murray really supported me early on in my career and gave me a lot of drives so it’s fitting.’’ Brad Williamson made the play early in last night’s competition by winning the opening heat on board the Greg and Nina Hope trained Western Art after a well thought out and perfectly executed drive. He beat home defending champion Michelle Neilson who pulled out all stops on Nui Toc Tien but just came up short in what was an all-South Island dominant with the first six placings going to the six Mainland representatives. The result was almost perfectly reversed in the second of the three heats with Tony Cameron producing a peach of a drive on Fair Dinkum Bromac to get the Mark Jones trained pacer home past the post first. He beat Michael Blakemore (Best Defence) and Jack MacKinnon (Scanreco Bay) with Neilson’s fifth placing on Alexy shutting out a North Island clean sweep. The result left the competition up in the air heading into the final race but Close produced a cagey drive to get the chocolates on Pammy’s Boy – narrowly beating home Kyle Marshall (Blue Don) and MacKinnon (Visualise). Close finished with 34 points, well clear of Neilson and MacKinnon who tied on 27 points. Neilson got the nod for second placing overall on the basis of finishing second in the opening heat. The other major prize of the night – the North v. South challenge was claimed by the South Island side who won with 147 points to the North’s 137. Matt Markham

The 2015 edition of the Australasian Young Drivers Championship was decided today at the Timaru Harness Racing Club's meeting at Phar Lap Raceway. Conducted over seven races at four different tracks over four days, the championship was keenly fought for by six young drivers from Australia and four from New Zealand. Robbie Close representing New Zealand's South Island went into the last two races today with a twelve point lead over his nearest rival Andre Poutama and Robbie quickly put the contest to bed when he won the first of today's two heats with a lovely drive on the trotter Saint Michel. Away well from barrier one to lead early, Saint Michel was taken on in the mid stages and ended up three back on the inner going past the 400 metres mark. Angling off the inner on the point of the turn, Robbie pulled Saint Michel out four wide as they turned for home and slowly reeled in the leader Clean Break with Trent Moffat in the bike while Price Of Fame and Josh Aiken flew late for third just in front of Peterhof and Jake Webster. With the 17 points for the win, Robbie had an unassailable lead of 27 points going into the last heat of the series later in the day. Mind you all the other drivers still had plenty to aim for and after a stirring race Coringa Delight and Tom Buchanan had a half head to spare from Secret Lotion and Dylan Ford with 6 1/2 lengths back to Indian Arrow and Josh Aiken and a further 1 1/2 lengths back to Betabcool and Michele Neilson with Robbie Close only picking up one point with a last placing. When all the points were tallied up the final result looked like this. 1st - Robbie Close (NZ)  -  77 2nd - Andre Poutama (NZ) -  52 3rd = Tom Buchanan (WA) -  51 3rd = Michele Neilson (NZ) -  51 5th - Dylan Ford (TAS) -  48 6th - Jake Webster (SA) -  44 7th = Trent Moffat (QLD -  39 7th = Josh Aiken (VIC) -  39 9th - Robbie Morris (NSW) -  27 10th - Ben Butcher (NZ) -  26 This season has been Robbie's best to date with 24 wins so far and 88 wins lifetime which is a great achievement with the limited opportunities for junior drivers overall in New Zealand compared to their Australian counterparts.  We here at Harnesslink would like to congratulate Robbie on winning the title and wish him all the best for the rest of the season. Harnesslink Media

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