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The Alexandra Park Driving Premiership means a lot more to Zac Butcher than what people think. “I don’t get enough drives to win the New Zealand premiership and Alexandra Park is my home track. Whoever wins that title is usually right up there as one of the best going around in the North island. “That is very important to. I’ve had a really good season so far and I’m desperate for that to carry on going into the last third of 2016-2017,” Butcher said. The 25-year-old Clevedon horseman has reined home 19 winners from 125 drives at Alexandra Park this season. He’s also placed on 37 times and has a healthy 0.2773 strike-rate. Both Butcher’s father David and Tony Herlihy (MNZM) are second with 18 wins apiece. “If I can stay ahead of Tony (Herlihy MNZM) the rest should take care of itself. He’s won the title so many times and to beat him would be some mean feat. I told Dad that and he said that he was the one I should be looking out for. “I joked to him saying that if I was ahead of Tony I’d be ahead of him,” Butcher laughed. “I’ll be dirty if I dropped behind Dad. He’s one driver I really want to beat. We have a big family rivalry when we get out there. Ben and I always want to beat Dad,” he added. Butcher’s above average season can largely be put down to his boss Barry Purdon also being the leading trainer at ‘The Park’ with 22 wins – three clear of his brother-in-law, Herlihy. “I’ve been driving some very good horses this year and I’m grateful to Barry and his owners for having faith in me. I’ve also picked up quite a few quality outside drives which have been helpful. I can’t thank all the owners and trainers enough,” Butcher said. One outside trainer was Mark Jones, who provided Butcher with another Group One victory in 2016-2017. Butcher drove the Jones trained Rocker Band to win the Group One $100,000 Ladyship Cup at Melton's Tabcorp Park on February 17. "That was the highlight of the season so far and I'm so thankful for getting that drive. I still love what I do and I love where I work. I'm always hungry for wins, no matter where I drive," Butcher said. Nationally, Butcher has driven 36 winners from 209 drives and is eighth on the New Zealand Driving Premiership with. He has also placed 36 times and he has earned $423,529 in stakes in 2016-2017. His UDR strike-rate sits at a very good 0.3179 - 0.344 higher than his father, but Butcher Senior has driven 44 winners this season and sits fifth on the New Zealand Driving Premiership. "It's always great to beat Dad at anything, but at the same time I will always respect what he's achieved. Only the very best reinsmen drive 2,200 winners," Butcher said. Butcher (Zac) has topped the 100-win mark once in 10 seasons of driving. That was in 2011-2012 when he saluted the judge 114 times and banked a personal best $882,293. His strike rate of 0.2718 that year was much less than what he's achieved this season. All up Butcher has driven 547 winners from 4,135 starters since 2009. He's also placed on 979 occasions and has career stake earnings of $6,080,246. His lifetime UDR is 0.2393. The 2017 Alexandra Park Drivers Premiership as of today March 22 – (Driver, Starts, Wins, Seconds, Thirds, UDR) 1) Zac Butcher 125, 19,15, 22, 0.2773. 2) David Butcher 140, 18, 21, 21, .0.2619. 3) Tony Herlihy 124, 18, 15,17, 0.2581. 4) Maurice McKendry 138, 18, 10, 20, 0.2190. 5) Brent Mangos 101, 17, 12, 7, 0.2574. Duane Ranger

The 4-year-old gelding who finished fourth in Vincent’s stunning New Zealand record win at Alexandra Park on December 31 is going to take all sorts of beating in Sunday’s 2017 Rotorua Grass Cup. In fact Mo Casino’s driver, Zac Butcher, rated him “a very good” winning chance, and easily the best of his four drives at the Harness Racing Waikato’s meeting at Arawa Park. If Butcher is right, the classy South Auckland reinsman will achieve back-to-back wins in the Cup. Last year he got up the passing lane with the Barry Purdon trained Hartofdixie. Hartofdixie paced the 2600m stand in 3:24.1. It’s a time that Butcher believes Mo Casino can at least match in the $8,000 Armstrong Family sponsored feature pace for the R66 and faster pacers – especially after his electrifying New Year’s Eve run. The Steven Reid and Simon McMullan trained son of Butler’s Delight has drawn six of 10. “This is ‘Mo’s’ first start back since he ran a real creditable fourth behind Vincent, and he felt superb that night finishing less than two seconds behind the very good colt. If anything that horse is the big mover in the New Zealand 3-year-old pacing ranks. “This is a big drop in class from city company and if I’m patient in the big long straight, I’m confident he’ will be too good,” Butcher said. Vincent set that New Zealand record in the $20,000 The Woodlands Yearling Parade Handicap for the R67 to R95 pacers. The 3-year-old Art Major colt stopped the clock in 3:19.6 for the 2700m stand beating Lancome's all-comers record of 3:20.9 set at Cambridge Raceway in 2011. It also beat Tas Man Bromac's 3-year-old record of 3:22 even set at Ascot Park in January 2015. Vincent is now headed for the Victoria Cup at Melton’s Tabcorp Park on February 4. “The standing start suits Mo Casino perfectly because he steps so well. He’s a genuine racehorse and if I drive him correctly you should see that come out in him on Sunday,” the 25-year-old Clevedon horseman said. Mo Casino is having his first look at Arawa Park and he is also having his first race on grass. The bay has placed in one of his two standing starts, and all-up he’s had 19 starts for three wins, thee seconds and a third ($29,003). Meanwhile Butcher said the Reid and McMullan trained My Kiwi Lady was the second best of his four drives at the meeting. “Simon told me today that they would scratch the filly from race nine (2) in favour of the seventh now that there have been a couple of scratchings.” That means the 3-year-old daughter of Art Major will race in the $6,000 - R48 to R56 pace, over the $6,500 - R55 to R64 rated event. “She’s been racing against some nice horses at Cambridge and Alexandra Park and gets back in grade here. “It’s an 1800m mobile so she’s going to have to do things right and then if I’m handy I just have to be patient on the bigger track. She can get some of it with the trip.” Here’s what Butcher said about his two other drives: Race 3: Charlie Harper (7): “ I drove him when he was fourth (and second favourite) at Waipa last start. He did a good job last start but will still need the run to suit in this. He’s the sort of horse who needs a bit of luck but if he gets it he can win one very soon.” Race 6: Delray (2): “He’s an honest entire (4yo) who people should follow. He’s lightly raced and not a big fella, and need to follow the speed. He has the draw and can go close if given one run at them. If not Sunday his time will come.” The Rotorua Grass Cup is the second race in the five-strong 2016-2017 North Island Country Cups Championship. The John and Josh Dickie trained Joanednobettor won the first race – the Te Awamutu Grass Cup on December 28. The three others are the Parawai Cup at Thames (January 21), the Wellington Cup at the Kapiti Coast on (January 27), and the Otaki Cup also at the Kapiti Coast (January 29). Duane Ranger

Invercargill harness racing trainer Wayne Adams has a great eye for a young horse. At the 2014 Sales in Christchurch he purchased two yearlings - Milehigh Magic and Navajo Art (then named Kamwood BC). He paid $6,000 for Navajo Art and $8,500 for Milehigh Magic. Both are now four, and Milehigh Magic was a winner last Sunday at Ascot Park while Navajo Art which was beaten by smart stablemate Mach's Back on the same day, came out today and easily won his maiden race. The Santanna Blue Chip youngster is out of the In The Pocket mare Kamwood Smarty the winner of four races. As a broodmare Kamwood Smarty had already left Kamwood Laughter and Kamwood Holmes, both of whom had won eleven races in Western Australia.  "As a three year old he wouldn't ever go. Murray's horse (Mach's Back) has really stepped up but this fella isn't too far behind him. He's just got better and better this season. How much more improvement is there, we don't know. Zac said he did it pretty good today," said Adams who trains the gelding for first time harness owners Barry and Judy Gutsell. Navajo Art and Zac Butcher                                              Photo Bruce Stewart Navajo Art driver by Zac Butcher couldn't muster early gate speed and was caught three wide going out of the first bend. With the early speed on Butcher was able to get into the one one. With 1600 metres to run in a confident move he hooked out of the trailing position and took the lead. At the 400 Navajo Art was travelling and Butcher had a good look over his shoulder to see where the challenges were coming from. In a hard slog to the line Navajo Art held on to beat High Roller by one and a quarter lengths.  The Gutsells owned galloper Eight Songs which won eight races including the 2006 Gore and Geraldine Cups. Judy Gutsell,Wayne Adams, Barry Gutsell and Charlotte Mooney from Woodlands Stud The only question I have in writing this story is why did the Gutsells change the name Kamwood BC to Navajo Art when Barry's initials are BC? I guess he'll flick me a quick email and explain so I can add it to the story.    Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

There are eleven races at Alexandra Park tonight and some big pools up for grabs. Harness racing in the Auckland region is on the up with larger than normal fields carded and fourteen horses having their first start at the races this evening. One of those first starters is Rariza (4m Courage Under Fire - Stunning), an unraced mare who qualified in the south for former trainer Chris McDowell. Rariza is obviously a quicker than average horse winning a maiden workout last Saturday pacing a blistering last 400m in 26.7. She is short on the fixed odds market currently at 1.65 another indication of the ability of the mare, Driven by Zac Butcher she will be very hard to beat in Race 4 this evening and possibly an anchor in the third leg of the first quaddie starting in Race 2. The last Quaddie of the night has a starting pool of  $40,000 and is worth a lazy dollar or two with a standout in the first leg. Quaddie - Races 8-11 inclusive guaranteed to $40,000 if struck  Leg 1 Ardens Choice looks a standout in this leg and is short on the TAB fixed odds market. She should go close to winning this and possibly the only logical anchor in the quaddie. Leg 2 This leg is a bit harder with several main chances. Snow Raker has gate speed and should lead here. Jay Abernethy thinks Snow Raker is his best drive of the night so needs to be included. Stunning Shadow, Emerson Margret and Turnbulls are all worth including on previous form. Leg 3 A very tricky leg of trotters here and no clear standout among them. A bigger spread is needed and include Jomo, I Got Rythm, Mr Natural, Majestic Gal, Opawa Speed and Blood and Whisky. Leg 4 Not the easiest of legs to finish the quaddie but Stars Delight has been racing well and is one of the better chances. Also needed are Luna De Miel, Booming Jet, Runcle and Kusima   Leg 1      6 Leg 2      3,4,10,12 Leg 3      1,2,5,7,8,10 Leg 4      1,2,3,6,9 $18.00 for 15%      Auckland Selections Race 1 Bro Fawkes S, I Am The Greatest,Tuhimata Lass,Grenado Race 2 Step Up, This Excuse Is Fine, Kilkeel Lady, He's Novak Race 3 Acceptance, Accumulator, Check In, Happy Magic Race 4 Rariza, Up All Nite, Lincolns Superstar, Shieldmaiden Race 5 Little Bro, Saint Michel, Inkyroe, Cool Son Race 6 Perfect Storm, Bevan's Cullen, Mr Euroman, Killer Queen Race 7 One Over Da Moon, Cool Cobber, Harrysul, Regal Petite Race 8 Arden's Choice, Bronze Over, Doubleodeano, The Faithful Race 9 Snow Raker, Stunning Shadow, Emerson Margaret, Turnbulls Race 10 Blood And Whisky, Jomo, I Got Rhythm, Mr Natural Race 11 Stars Delight, Runcle, Kusima, Booming Jet   Harnesslink Media  

As reported by the New Zealand Herald, a determined Zac Butcher could be the driver to follow at Alexandra Park tonight and beyond. The harness racing young gun says he is focused for the new season, something his results back up. Butcher goes into tonight's meeting second in the national premiership with five wins and two placings from just 14 drives and with some strong chances, headlined by Arden's Choice (R8). Butcher had a mediocre season by his very high standards last term but says he wants to be more consistent this season so his early success has been important. "I'm looking for a big season and Barry [Purdon, boss] has some nice horses here so I am looking forward to the months ahead," says Butcher. Arden's Choice looks the best of his book tonight at a meeting with surprisingly big numbers for an Alexandra Park winter fixture. "She has been racing really well and won well at the workouts last Saturday so she has to be a good chance," said Butcher. There is plenty of speed drawn inside the group one-placed mare but that could suit as the tempo should be solid, which brings her stamina into play. On a night with few odds-on favourites, the best horse of the show will need a new driver. Open-class trotter One Over Da Moon faces a 50m handicap in the main trot, with Brent Mangos sitting in for trainer Tony Herlihy, who is in Victoria preparing Temporale for Sunday's Breeders Crown. While it is never easy to overcome a 50m handicap at The Park, the small field and One Over Da Moon's ability to trot around 3:26 for the 2700m should see him make it back-to-back victories. Meanwhile, Herlihy and his fellow Kiwi trainers face a mixed bag at Melton's rich Breeders Crown meeting. The likes of Our Waikiki Beach (3-year-old male pace) and Wilma's Mate (3-year-old female trot) are red hot to win their finals but Partyon, Pacing Major, Custodian, Temporale, My MacKenzie and Our Regal Love faces serious opposition and difficult draws in their races. Partyon would usually he a standout favourite, being an unbeaten Mark Purdon-trained Harness Jewels winner but she has drawn the outside of the front line, from where only two horses have ever won a Breeders Crown Final. She also meets two high-class Victorian fillies in Miss Graceland and Petacular, so the Auckland-owned filly is going to need to do something special to win. "I think she will improve on her semifinal last week and I don't really have much option but to keep going forward from the draw," says Purdon. "But it won't be easy, those other two fillies are very good." Triple treat • Best bet: One Over Da Moon (Alex Park, R7): Field configuration should see him get a nice cart into race from huge handicap. • Place punt: Doubleodeano (Alex Park, R8): Hasn't had much go right lately, gets his chance to lead and be hard to catch. • Don't miss: Super Sunday, huge array of Kiwis lead by Our Waikiki Beach from 3.26pm (NZ time) on Sunday at Melton.   Michael Gerin

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

Weight of numbers would suggest the winner of tonight’s feature pace at Alexandra Park will be going home in Barry Purdon’s horse float but the training legend warns it may not be one of his. Purdon trains four of the nine starters in the $15,000 main sprint but also has the sole Australian contender for the Jewels in My Kiwi Mate stabled at his property with trainer Craig Demmler. And having gotten to know the four-year-old pretty well over the last six weeks, Purdon says My Kiwi Mate could show up his local mates in race five tonight. “I am happy with all four of mine but My Kiwi Mate was pretty impressive winning at the workouts last weekend,” admits Purdon. “He is a really nice horse coming out of the Taylor Mile and Messenger and even though he has a tough draw he is the one to beat.”
 Purdon has Hug The Wind, Democrat Party, The Faithful and Aliante in the race and says while Hug The Wind is a genuine Jewels chance he might just need the run tonight. “He is there to win but being a stallion he probably needs the racing, as we saw at when My Kiwi Mate beat him at the workouts last weekend. “So of the ones we train I thought Democrat Party might be the best hope. She has worked well since coming up from the South Island and has a better draw than Hug The Wind.” Draws will also play on Purdon’s mind in race six, where he has one of the Jewels four-year-old mares’ favourites in On The Town but he says punters should be careful. “She is going great and I am really hoping for a good draw with her for the Jewels. “But she has the outside of the front line this week and there looks to be plenty of speed inside her, which could make it tricky on her if she goes out hard. “I will leave the decision on that to Zac (Butcher, driver) to see what happens early but even if she isn’t in the early rush she has to be a good chance.” On The Town may be a four-year-old but she has two Derby class three-year-olds in Motown and Walkinshaw drawn inside her and both could break 2:40 for the 2200m so will be hard to get past should they get to the markers pegs first. Jewels contenders will dominate a few other races tonight, with Blazing Under Fire likely to enjoy his return to mobile racing in race three, where he meets a race rival next week in Donegal Bettorgretch, facing the often-tricky Alexandra Park debut. And the open class trotters get a rare mobile sprint in race seven, where the likes of Jag’s Invasion, Queen Kenny and Realmein will appreciate being off levels marks but they all have only moderate records from behind the mobile. Michael Guerin

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.

Barry Purdon's day started poorly but it ended with a big smile. Sky Major has drawn the second line for Tuesday's $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup but things brightened up significantly in his camp after an imposing cup trial at Addington on Wednesday evening. Purdon and Zac Butcher were all smiles after the multiple Group I winner ran past the field in the final stages of the 2600m trip to win comfortably over Ohoka Punter and No Doctor Needed. Ohoka Punter and Smolda were the major winners from the barrier draw for New Zealand's premier harness race. They will start side by side on the front line with Ohoka Punter at four and Smolda five. But the TAB still moved Sky Major past Smolda as the new favourite after his impressive trial. Sky Major was moved into $3.20 from $4 with Smolda eased out from $3.50 to $3.70. Ohoka Punter was moved out to a point to $7. Purdon and Butcher were more than happy with Sky Major's trial. "It's been a bit of a slow build up," Purdon said. "I guess you could say an old fashion one but he's where he needs to be now." Purdon said Sky Major had came through his run in the Ashburton Flying Stakes with ease. "He probably needed that run tonight to get him through until next week." Sky Major looked like he had been for an afternoon stroll when he returned to the stables and Butcher said he hit the line strongly. Tony Herlihy was happy with the effort of Ohoka Punter who will be a player on Tuesday if he gets an ounce of luck in the running. Australian pacer Corzin Terror led up for most of the trip before falling back behind the front three with Purdon's second runner Lancewood Lizzie in just a five horse field. Canterbury Classic winner Tiger Tara is the biggest loser from the barrier draw. He drew 12 but when third emergency Lewy Risk comes out he will shift into the inside of the second line and follow out No Doctor Needed. Meanwhile, despite reports Australian driver Chris Alford was confirmed to travel across the Tasman to drive Messini, that could change. Natalie Rasmussen will have her injured elbow re-x-rayed later this week and if the results are positive she will look to be back driving on cup day and that would likely include driving Messini. She suffered the injury in race day crash at Methven last month. Sires Stakes favourite Lazarus was missing from the trials but will start from his tricky second line draw in the Group I on Tuesday. Mark Purdon confirmed the $1.80 favourite would definitely be starting on Tuesday. Christen Me was removed from the cup field on Monday and two days later he has officially been withdrawn from the Inter Dominion field along with stablemate Mighty Flying Mac. Trainer Cran Dalgety is vowing Christen Me, last season's horse of the year, will be back to his best in the future. Monbet ran a super trial in the lead up to the Group I NZ Free-For-All at Addington on Wednesday. After working around the field in the running line without cover, Ricky May let the Greg and Nina Hope trained trotter go in the straight and he exploded away from the field. New Zealand Trotting Cup field: No Doctor Needed 1, Franco Nelson 2, Lancewood Lizzie 3, Ohoka Punter 4, Smolda 5, Mossdale Conner 6, Te Kawau 7, Arden Rooney 8, Messini 9, Lewy Risk 10 (E3), Brilliant Strike 11, Tiger Tara 12, Corzin Terror 13, Mighty Flying Mac 14, Sky Major 15, Choise Achiever 16, Mach's Gladiator 17 (E2), Quick As A Trick 18 (E1). Mat Kermeen Reproduced with permission of Stuff NZ    -    Check site here

Since the inception of the Harness Jewels, none of the harness racing stars that have won at the Harness Jewels have been able to win three in a row.   That was before today when Sky Major won the Group 1 Harness Jewels $150,000 four-year-old Emerald and became the first horse to rack up three Jewels wins in three successive years.   Following Quick As A Trick through from the second line, driver Zac Butcher was lucky to miss the melee with Sky Major when Quick As A Trick broke after 200 metres causing a lot of horses plenty of problems.   Zac somehow managed to plot a path through the carnage and landed in the one by one after Te Kawau had worked to the front.   Zac popped out of the one by one at the 500 metres and quickly went up to Te Kawau and grabbed the lead with 300 metres to go.   However Te Kawau wouldn't go away but Sky Major held him comfortably by a length in the end with Messini running on well late for third in front of a slightly disappointing Tiger Tara in fourth who trailed most of the journey but didn't kick on in the straight like most thought he would.   The son of Art Major paced the mile in a sedate 1:54.1 but the closing sectionals were very smart at 54.8 and 24.7   Zac Butcher let out a whoop as he came back to the birdcage.   " That means so much to me to drive the first horse to win three Harness Jewels."   "As always master trainer Barry Purdon had him spot on and the way he was travelling on the corner I thought I would hard to beat."   " He was still travelling at the finish but I said to Jim Curtin as we were pulling up that we had been flying over that last 400 metres,"   It takes  a special horse to win three Harness Jewels and this horse is a special horse," Zac said.   The other treble completed by Sky Major's win was that of prominent owner Trevor Casey who shares in the ownership of three winners at todays Jewels meeting in Missandei, Lazarus and Sky Major.   Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing glamour mare Venus Serena has always been looking over her shoulder for a Barry Purdon trained runner throughout her career.   Last season it was Ideal Belle who beat her in the Oaks and pushed her so close in last seasons Harness Jewels.   This year in the Group 1 $150,000 four year old Diamond at the Harness Jewels at Ashburton the new challenger was another Barry Purdon trained runner in Lancewood Lizzie.   Drawn one off the front line,driver Zac Butcher hustled her out of the gate early and lead for the first 800 metres before handing up to the favourite Venus Serena and John Dunn.   These two went clear as they turned for home and Zac waited and waited before launching up the passing lane at the 200 metres mark with Lancewood Lizzie.   They quickly grabbed Venus Serena and dashed away for an easy win with Venus Serena battling on gamely to be clearly second.   Sweet Art never left the inner the whole journey as she sat on Lancewood Lizzie's back and fought on gamely for third in front of Willow who finished well late.   Lancewood Lizzie paced the mile in a swift 1:52.7 with closing sectionals of 54.7 and 25.4   Zac Butcher was full of compliments for trainer Barry Purdon on returning to the birdcage.   " Barry always has them spot on for the big day."   " She felt super the whole way and I handed up to Venus Serena as she was the horse to beat."   " I was pretty confident at the 200 metres mark as she was travelling super and once I moved into the passing lane, she picked her up pretty easily actually, Zac said.   John Dunn was rapt with the run of Venus Serena.   "I couldn't have asked for any more, she has gone super," John said.   One sad note post race was that Gracious Star was found to have suffered multiple fractures of the right front pastern and she was humanely euthanised.   Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing trainer Ray Green always seems to have a smart two year old or two each season and has become known as one of the best two year old conditioners around. So when Ray tells you he has a bit of time for a juvenile, it pays to take notice. The two year old in question is Zach Maguire who lines up for his second lifetime start at Alexander Park on Friday night. A $34,000 purchase at last years Australasian Classic yearling sale, Zach Maguire made a good fist of his debut when a close up third to the smart Sir Ritchie. Ray thinks he still has one or two little kinks to iron out with the Bettor's Delight colt. " He is not the finished product yet but he is getting better all the time." " The one attribute of his that I really like is his high speed" "He is a colt with a big future and being a Bettors Delight he should just get better and better with racing." " He's a keeper," Ray said. Ray was going to have two babies in tomorrow night but it looks like he may have to scratch his other runner, the Mach Three filly Tuapeka Sky. " She came out of the paddock lame so I will just have to get her checked out." " It is a shame because I have a lot of time for her." " She also has a lot of speed and I think will develop into a lovely three year old next season," Ray said. One thing that has changed at the Lincoln Farm setup recently has been a change in the stable driving arrangements. Ray was quick to dismiss any talk of bad blood in the change. " A lot of the new syndicates we have set up are requesting we put up some of the leading drivers and so to accommodate them we have made the change." At this point in the main we are using David and Zac Butcher," Ray said. Ray Green has a great record with young horses and this years crop headed by Killer Queen and company look sure to keep his name to the fore over the next twelve months. Harnesslink Media 

Last nights New Zealand Oaks was meant to be a one horse affair with last weeks Nevele R Fillies winner The Orange Agent expected to dominate once again. However her wide draw this week had some pundits saying she was vulnerable and when the heavy rain and strong winds set in, no one really knew what to expect. Fight For Glory, who had pushed The Orange Agent last week had also drawn poorly at one on the second line so luck was going to play a part. As the gate left, Maurice McKendry took The Orange Agent  back from her wide draw while Natalie Rasmussen on Fight For Glory managed to get off the inside after 200 metres and into the running line. Shortly afterwards Natalie circled the field with Fight For Glory and grabbed the lead with just over a mile to run. Natalie then decided to make it a catch me if you can race and kept up a hot tempo in front. Passing the 500 metres, Natalie launched Fight For Glory and she put four lengths on the opposition as they turned for home. Although getting tired the last 100 metres Fight For Glory was still a length in front at the finishing line. Democrat Party and Zac Butcher finished on for second just a half head in front of a very unlucky Linda Lovegrace who came from well back for third. A close up fourth was The Orange Agent who didn't seem all that happy in the conditions. Natalie was mobbed by the connections in the winners circle post race and was full of praise for the Art Major filly. " As soon as I got off the inside, I decided to get on the pace because she is so hard to run down." " She is such a genuine filly and I thought they would have trouble getting past her." " She is just such a pleasure to drive and even though they got a bit close in the last little bit, I knew she would see it out," Natalie said. Blair Orange on Linda Lovegrace was rapt with her run. "We could have got off at the 1200 metres mark into the running line but I decided to stay on the inner." "She got held up a wee bit but has really found the line when clear." "It was a super run," Blair said. Maurice McKendry thought while The Orange Agent had run a creditable fourth, she wasn't entirely happy in the conditions. " She didn't feel as sharp tonight and all I can put it down to is the track conditions," Maurice said. Last nights win by Fight For Glory has breathed a bit of life back into the Harness Jewels race for the three year old fillies with The Orange Agent not as dominant as previously thought. Harnesslink Media

The Greg Brodie sponsored invited drivers competition at the harness racing meeting at Waikouaiti today was keenly fought out between ten drivers from all over New Zealand as well as a couple from Australia. Lance Justice and Amanda Turnbull crossed the Tasman for the competition and were joined by David and Zac Butcher from the North island as well as a good cross section of the leading drivers from Canterbury down to Southland. There were two parts to the competition with the individual title at stake as well as the team competition with six established drivers making up the experienced team and the six younger drivers making up the youth team. Points were available from 12 to the winner down to 1 for last in each heat. The first heat was taken out by Zac Butcher on the Margo Nyhan trained Canndew with Aveross Rustler and Dexter Dunn finishing second and Scanreco Bay and Ricky May third.  The second heat saw Booster trained by Nathan Williamson make it four in a row with Ken Barron in the bike while Flagpole and Craig Ferguson ran into second ahead of Balagio and Jim Curtin. Heat three was for the one win grade and saw the Steven McRae trained No Mas with Amanda Turnbull in the bike home first just ahead of Livy Franco and Zac Butcher and Red Under Fire and David Butcher The fourth heat was for trotters and another Steven McRae trainer runner in Indiana Jones was too smart with Craig Ferguson in the bike in front of Blue Don and Zac Butcher with Anothersuperstar and Matthew Williamson in third. Heat five was taken out by the recent addition to the Graeme Anderson barn in Onedin Mach who had Ricky May in the bike in front of Destined For Glory and Dexter Dunn with Graduate Under Fire and Jim Curtin running into third. The last of the six heats for the invited drivers was taken out by the Greg and Nina Hope trained Bobby T with Ken Barron in the bike in front of Sammy The Bull and Craig Ferguson who ran second with Scotlynn Justis and Matthew Williamson in third. When the points were all tallied up, Zac Butcher had romped home with 51 points, well clear of Ken Barron and Craig Ferguson on 44 points. For his efforts Zac was presented with a commemorative scroll and a $2000 cash prize courtesy of sponsorship from Greg Brodie and he gets to hold the Greg Brodie Drivers Challenge Trophy for twelve months. The youth team were too strong for the experienced team coming out on top by 243.5 points to 229.5 points. Points for each team were as follows:                               Youth Team                                                                         Experienced Team                               Zac Butcher - 51                                                                  Ken Barron - 44                               Craig Ferguson - 44                                                            David Butcher - 43.5                               Matthew Williamson - 43                                                     Lance Justice - 38                               Amanda Turnbull - 38                                                         Allan Beck - 36                                Samantha Ottley - 34.5                                                        Ricky May - 35                               Dexter Dunn - 33                                                                 Jimmy Curtin - 33                               Total Points - 243.5                                                            Total Points - 229.5       This is the second year that the invited drivers competition has been held and if today's event is anything to go by, it has a great future. Harnesslink Media    

The long awaited return of one of last season's harness racing glamour girls in Ideal Belle took place at Alexandra Park on Friday night and as expected the daughter of American Ideal was a comfortable winner. The New Zealand Oaks winner from last season has always looked a filly that would get better with time and the now four year old looked a mare going places in a hurry. It was Ideal Belle's first standing start but Zac Butcher got her away quickly and she settled into the trail behind the free going First Home. With no mid race challengers Zac was able to wait until the straight to ease Ideal Belle into the passing lane where she dashed past First Home in the last 100 metres for a comfortable first up win. Ideal Belle paced the 2700 metres from a stand in 3:27.9, a mile rate of 2:03.9 with smart closing sectionals of 56.1 and 27. Zac Butcher was confident a long way out that she would win. "She handled the standing start really well" " She feels like a mare who will develop into a really quick beginner before too long." " To be fair she is only about 80% tonight but I knew if I got the right run she would be way too good for them and that's how it turned out." " I just let her get to the line under her steam," Zac said. After her stellar three year old campaign, Ideal Belle suffered bad cuts to her hind legs when she got them caught over a fence which has delayed her four year old debut. The main aim for the season now is for her to qualify for the Harness Jewels at Ashburton on May 30th. Zac always thought that Ideal Belle would come back better at four. " She has always had a lot of potential and was always going to get better with time." " I think she should eventually end up in the big Cup races, Zac said. With the retirement of both Adore Me and Helena Jet in the last few weeks, the time is right for Ideal Belle to stake her claim to the top spot amongst New Zealand mares. Harnesslink Media  

Australians haven’t seen the last of star Kiwi harness racing performer Our Sky Major. Although part-owned on both sides of the Tasman, the son of Art Major is trained in New Zealand by champion horseman, Barry Purdon. As for his latest Aussie adventure, Our Sky Major captured the Chariots Of Fire at Tabcorp Park Menangle just moments ago. Driven by Zac Butcher, Our Sky Major accounted for Bling It On and Isaiah in 1:51.5 for the 1609-metre trip. Pleased with the four-year-old’s performance, Purdon revealed Our Sky Major will return to Australia – Victoria to be precise - later in the season for another shot at Breeders’ Crown glory. Our Sky Major finished third in the two-year-old division and fourth last season. First, the entire will return to the Shaky Isles for the Taylor Mile, Messenger and Harness Jewels. “He will go home now for our major four-year-old races, but will be back for the Breeders’ Crown in August,” Purdon said. Our Sky Major’s victory provided Purdon with his fourth triumph in the Chariots Of Fire since its inception in 1995. Capturing the inaugural running with Gingerman, Purdon also scored with Franco Hat Trick in 1998 and Holmes D G ’99. PAUL COURTS

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