Day At The Track

Powerful NZ influence on Hambletonian Day

11:13 PM 06 Aug 2012 NZST
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Chris Ryder trained Put On A Show to win Mark Harder trained Golden Receiver to Nifty Norman, who trained Jet Lag N
Chris Ryder trained Put On A Show to win - the $250,000 Lady Liberty Final.
Mark Harder trained Golden Receiver to - win the $242,500 United States Pacing Championship.
Nifty Norman, who trained - Personal Style to win the $714,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
Jet Lag N - in a previous Meadowlands victory
Photo by Michael Lisa - Lisa Photo, Inc.
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The North American breed has had a huge influence on harness racing in New Zealand in recent decades - but going by last Saturday's big Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands the Kiwis are also playing a major role in the sport in the United States.

Three New Zealand-born trainers won more than $1.2 million in purses in three races on Saturday (August 5).

The Nifty Norman trained Personal Style won the $714,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3yo fillies.

The Chris Ryder trained Put On A Show won the $250,000 Lady Liberty Final for mares.

And the Mark Harder trained Golden Receiver won the $242,500 United States Pacing Championship.

The if that wasn't enough New Zealand broodmare, Jet Lag N provided the winner of the $268,000 Sweetheart Final for 2-year-old fillies when the Wayne Givens trained Jerseylicious notched up her first win in four starts.

Jet Lag also won one of her four starts before being exported to the United States in February 2003. She is by Direct Flight and out of an unraced New York Motoring mare named I Like Motoring.

The Ross Croghan trained Jet lag N the raced in the United States and Canada and retired on June 22, 2007 the winner of 37 of her 131 starts and $657,314.

She has left four foals - 4yo Art Major gelding BJS Jupiter (2 wins - 1:52.4), an unraced 3yo Art Major filly named BJS Mustique; Jerseylicious (1:52.1 - $147,856); and Brian P yearling, Motorino.

The pedigree of the three Kiwi horsemen is also impressive.

Nifty Norman's father had gallopers back in New Zealand but it wasn't until 1985 when he met up with Ross Croghan that he became interested in harness racing.

He soon became another Kiwi - Brett Pelling's ‘right-hand man' and for 20 years he developed and conditioned some of America's best horseflesh.

When Pelling retired in 2005 Norman has taken over the limelight and has won some of America's biggest races.

In fact the Allentown (New Jersey) based horseman has won at least $1.6 million every year since 2006. He's surpassed $2 million three times including 2007 when he bagged 105 winners.

So far this year - 48 wins and $1.6 million. Overall - 548 wins and $14.9 million.

So will Norman come back to New Zealand and race/retire?

"I still have property back there, and with what's going on in New Jersey you never know what is going to happen. It's crazy to me that the state even considered closing something like the Meadowlands.

"I don't think politicians realize how big the Meadowlands is. It's our whole business. It's one of the reasons I got into training horses. It's known all over the world. It is harness racing. If they ever close it, it might be the end of harness," Norman said.

Meanwhile 56-year Greymouth (NZ West Coast) born Ryder is also a Kiwi who has made a big impact of the American harness racing scene.

The Allentown (New Jersey) based conditioner worked as a horse agent Down Under and then trained two winners in New Zealand before heading to the United States in the late 1980s.

He first gained national attention for his work with 1997 2-Year-Old Colt Pacer of the Year, Sealed N Delivered.

He also campaigned Cathedra Dot Com, who earned $1 million during her 3-year-old season in 2001.

His highest earner to date is McArdle, who retired with $2.4 million in earnings.

Trotting mare Mystical Sunshine, who banked nearly $1.8 million in her career and was a 2007 Dan Patch Award winner, is one of his recent stable stars.

But it has been Ryder's stunning Rocknroll Hanover pacing mare - Put On A Show (27 wins - $2.3m - 1:47.3) that has really put him at the forefront of American harness racing.

Put On A Show won the Dan Patch Award as her division's best in 2010 and set the earnings record for a filly pacer ($1.89 million at ages 2 and 3 combined. Her top wins came in the Breeders Crown and Valley Forge...In 2009, Put On A Show's victories included the She's A Great Lady

As for Ryder he's won 1075 races and $28.6 million.

Then there's Mark Harder. While growing up in Johnsonville just north of New Zealand's capital city of Wellington, his parents always thought their son would study agriculture and then run the family farm.

Harder apprenticed with some of New Zealand's top horsemen, and in the late 1980s was asked to travel to Chicago with a group of horses to be sold. Harder travelled back and forth to the U.S. on a regular basis for several years before giving Los Alamitos a try.

Then, upon the recommendation of Ross Croghan, whom he knew in California, he went to work for Bob Murphy's large standardbred contingent in British Columbia for three years.

Harder went out on his own in 2000 and his stable quickly swelled. He won his first Meadowlands training title in 2004 and captured the Meadowlands Pace that year with Holborn Hanover, the longest priced winner in Pace history. Harder's biggest win of the 2006 meet was the Governor's Cup with Sutter Hanover.

The 48-year-old won his first Meadowlands training title in 2004, and his stable won 281 races and earned almost $7 million that year, but the New Zealand native became overwhelmed with managing a large-scale training operation and since then has scaled his operation back.

Since 1992 he has won 1482 races and a tick over $35 million.

And here's what the three New Zealand horsemen had to say about their big wins on Saturday:

Nifty Norman (Personal style):

"I'd like to tell you that we did something really smart but I can't," trainer Norman said. "We just got kind of lucky. Is this for real? Unbelievable."

Chris Ryder (Put On A Show):

"Wow she has just became the fastest female ever in the Liberty with a world record 1:47.3. This is unbelievable," he said.

Mark Harder (Golden Receiver):

"He's just a good horse. We can take credit as trainers but if they don't stay healthy and aren't good horses you're not keeping them there. He stayed healthy and he stayed good."

By Duane RANGER (editor) and some information courtesy of the USTA Fanguide


(1) The Nifty Norman trained Personal Style won the $714,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3yo fillies:

(2) The Chris Ryder trained Put On A Show won the $250,000 Lady Liberty Final for mares:

(3) And the Mark Harder trained Golden Receiver won the $242,500 United States Pacing Championship:

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