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New Zealand's greatest harness racing trainer left on his own, perfect terms at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. In his last race before Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen take a sabbatical from training they quinellaed the $200,000 Auckland Cup as little mare Amazing Dream grabbed stablemate Spankem late to win the great race. Fittingly it was Purdon who drove the winner but it was Rasmussen who set up the win as her lung-searing last mile in front on Spankem to keep the attentions of Copy That at bay ultimately won the race for Amazing Dream. "That is what won me the race," admitted Purdon. "The pressure on at the lead made it a staying test and this mare is a great stayer." The win was historic as Purdon and Rasmussen, known as the All Stars, cease training from Friday, with the majority of their horses to be taken over by the young stable foreman Hayden Cullen. Purdon and to a lesser extent Rasmussen will still occasionally drive and it is likely they will return to training in some capacity but the days of the all-conquering All Stars machine look over. "I am very comfortable with that decision now and so is Nat and to win our last race officially training with a horse owned by Jean Feiss, who has been one of our most supportive owners, is a great way to end this chapter." Spankem was enormous in second while Copy That was also huge, with his race becoming so much more difficult when he was crossed at the start. The $200,000 Auckland Cup Earlier in the night Enjoy Me gave two of the stars of northern harness racing their first Group 1 win when she won the Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship. Trainer Steve Telfer, who this season started training in partnership with his sister Amanda, and young driver Ben Butcher were both registering their first wins at the highest level of racing when Enjoy Me used the passing lane to grab favourite Bettor Twist after she sat parked for the last lap. Teller and his Stonewall Stud bosses have believed in Butcher since he was a junior driver and their faith has been repaid as he has matured into a leading senior driver. "To get my first Group 1 is special but even more too to get it for Telf and Stonewall after how much they have supported me," said 25-year-old Butcher. Enjoy Me He wasn't the only passing lane major winner tonight as Aladdin, who was sold to new Australian owners just last week, took out the $200,000 Harness Million, beating stablemate Shan Noble in the last few strides. Aladdin Sundees Son ended, for a while at least, the argument over who is New Zealand's best trotting stayer when he easily beat Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the $95,000 National Trot, aptly named cause the winner set a new national record. Sundees Son was able to run to the lead uncontested in the middle stages and adds the National to the Anzac Cup and Row Cup as Group 1 wins at Alexandra Park, as well as a Jewels and a Dominion at Addington, giving him the record of a great trotter with the promise of so much more to come. Sundees Son By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Just in case you needed a gentle reminder, All Stars delivered. Again. As the most dominant stable of New Zealand history is set to take a sabbatical, they proved yet again their brilliance when it comes to winning the biggest events on the harness racing calendar. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen finished with a one/two finish in the Gr.1 $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park, Auckland when star mare Amazing Dream ran down Spankem and Copy That in the 3200m stand-start feature. Yet again, they have completed the Cups double, winning both the New Zealand and Auckland Cups in the same year. And their success in the North Island feature pacing event is remarkable. The victory of Amazing Dream gives the stable their sixth consecutive Auckland Cup following the triumphs of Have Faith In Me (2015*) Dream About Me (2016), Vincent (2017), Turn It Up (2018) and Self Assured (2019). Other winners of the Auckland Cup for the stable includes Auckland Reactor (2009), Young Rufus (2002) plus Sharp And Telford (1996). The start was crucial with the three fancies all drawn alongside each other, Spankem (Natalie Rasmussen) began best and headed off Copy That (Maurice McKendry) before handing over to Amazing Dream (Mark Purdon). With the top choices all landing favourable positions, the first move in the race came from Ashley Locaz (Tim Williams) who swept around the field and took the lead from Amazing Dream. His time in front was short-lived as Spankem darted back around to reclaim the front-running role. The lead time was covered in 2:02.9. Spankem led the way from Ashley Locaz while Copy That squeezed off the inside to sit parked while Amazing Dream raced three back on the pegs. And the speed was on, Spankem kept rolling in front at a high rate. The first half of the final mile was covered in splits of 28.8 and 28.8 seconds. Entering the back straight, Spankem led the way with Copy That matching him on the outside while Ashley Locaz waited for the passing lane to emerge. Amazing Dream was able to force clear of her pocket position and found the back of Copy That down the back straight and loomed big danger. The third quarter was covered in 27.5 seconds. At the top of the straight, Spankem was holding Copy That but couldn’t withstand the finishing burst from Amazing Dream deep into the straight. Amazing Dream scored by a neck margin from Spankem with a gallant Copy That a further half-length away in third. The final quarter was timed in 28.5 seconds. The winning time was 3:56.5 – a winning mile rate of 1:58.9. Amazing Dream is raced by leviathan Australian based owner Jean Feiss and it was her third triumph in the event following on from Vincent (2017) and last year’s winner Self Assured. Amazing Dream, now the winner of seven Gr.1 events joins the likes of Dream About Me, Flight South, Kates First, Armalight and Delightful Lady (x 2) as Auckland Cup winners of the fairer sex since 1980. An Australian campaign starting next month is expected from the All Stars before taking their break.

The last race of Mark Purdon's champion training career could be decided by standing start manners in the $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on Thursday. The race will be the last time New Zealand's greatest harness trainer has a horse race in his name for probably a year, maybe even longer as Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen take a step away from training. Purdon confirmed to the Herald yesterday that from Friday, the first day of 2021, all horses trained by he and Rasmussen will transfer to current stable foreman Hayden Cullen's name. That means if stars like Self Assured and Spankem head to Australia for a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile campaign in coming months they will be trained by Cullen, with Purdon the stable's travelling foreman. The changeover will start immediately, with Purdon and Rasmussen taking the opportunity to enjoy their new life with a few days holiday next week and Cullen coming north to training the team racing at Cambridge, with Purdon still set to drive them. But punters need to get their head around the very odd thought that from Friday the All Stars elite are no longer going to be under the daily care of Purdon. "It has been a big task getting all the paperwork together and Natalie has taken care of a lot of that," says Purdon. "But while we will still be involved leading into big carnivals and when needed it is very much going to be Hayden's team and we will only have a role to play when needed." It is somewhat fitting the biggest race on Purdon's home track for the first half of his life will be the last race he has a runner in before his sabbatical, with the Cup to be race nine on Thursday's twilight programme and the stable having no runners in the last race named in their honour. Purdon and Rasmussen not only have the Auckland Cup favourite in Spankem (barrier four) but also third favourite Amazing Dream (three), with the pair drawn handy alongside each other, with the second favourite Copy That drawn barrier two. With Spankem and Copy That all but unbeatable in front at this level is it easy to get the feeling whoever wins the standing start race to the first bend might hold the key to the Cup. But while they both tend to be safe from a stand Amazing Dream is a bit more of a mystery. "I took her to the workouts last week for her first standing start and she handled it well enough," said Purdon. "But racenight, especially having your first standing start in such a big race, can be different and I don't think she would like to be standing for too long before the tapes go." With a smaller field and only eight across the front line at Alexandra Park the Cup should at least not see a repeat of the debacle in the New Zealand Cup last month when the outside horses got a walk up start while those drawn down low were left behind, with Copy That the worst affected. But that shortened front line hasn't helped either Ashley Locaz (9) or Thefixer (11), both of who still now start on the second line. Thursday's meeting also sees the next clash of trotting's big stars Sundees Son, Majestic Man and Bolt For Brilliance in the National Trot, Bettor Twist and La Rosa in the Fillies' Final and a very competitive NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old male pacers. Meanwhile, New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured, who misses the Auckland Cup because of a corn issue earlier in the month, heads to Cambridge on Friday week. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Below are the current nominations for the Auckland Cup (Group 1) and National Trot (Group 1) to be run at Alexandra Park on December 31. The nominations have now been extended to this Friday 11 December at 5.00pm. Any additional nominations can be made via Karen Blanchard at Auckland Trotting Club 027 808 3150 Auckland Cup Gambit Check In Triple Eight Kango Bad to the Bone Mach Shard On The Cards The Fixer South Coast Arden Copy That Self Assured Spankem Ashley Locaz Amazing Dream Tommy Lincoln National Trot Bolt For Brilliance Invictus Temporale Kings Landing Majestic Man Kay Cee Tricky Ric Sertorius Sundees Son Credit Master   HRNZ

Self Assured sets the pace, harness racing trainer driver Mark Purdon varies the pace,  third successive Auckland Cup for All Stars with a four-year-old. That’s setting the pace-big time! Self Assured left no doubt he is a star with a huge future after giving Mark an armchair drive in the $245,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup yesterday. Mark conducted the pace like Mantovani, easing in the middle stages and sprinting home in 26.9 to outclass his rivals in a great display of legal theft. The overall time of 3.59.5 won’t threaten the record books but All Stars have made a habit of stealing the race in recent years. Turn It Up, who won the Cup at his 9th start last year ran over 4.03 while Vincent the previous year in the hands of Natalie did not break 4.04. The fastest recent Cup since the 3200m was restored was Dream About Me who ran 3.55.5 for Mark in 2016 “He began so brilliantly I had to use that advantage”Mark said. “Yes we got away with a few cheap sectionals but you can’t take anything from him. He was taken on early. He is a terrific young horse” Mark didn’t win his first Auckland Cup until 2009 with Auckland Reactor but Self Assured is his 3rd driving winner in four years and 4th training success in that time. Thefixer trailed the winner all the way but could not foot it with that last 400m. “He was really good, tried hard, Self Assured was just too fast the way the race was run and is a terrific horse “‘ All Stars always thought so but a couple of setbacks as a youngster which including careering around the training track with a cart and no driver had connections holding their breath. But he showed in a triumphant Queensland winter campaign he was the real deal and has gone on proving it since. Australian four year old features now beckon and who knows? maybe the Miracle Mile won by Spankem as a four year old last season Tim thought Chase Auckland was really good having had to work in the middle stages and Blair thought Cruz Bromac may have just been feeling the effects of a busy campaign. Another Masterpiece broke at the start showing pace in the middle stages before the effort told. Self Assured has now won 8 of his 10 starts REMARKABLE 7TH SUCCESSIVE 3YO SALES PACE FINAL TO ALL STARS One Change spent the first part of his racing career as a nice little horse who might make the grade with the good ones. Now he is the best one and the others are trying to make the grade with him. “The horse who knows how to win” even if it is not by a lot, added to his Sires Stakes triumph in New Zealand and his honour as the leading juvenile last season with a typical no nonsense win in the $200,000 race. “I used him early because of that draw. After I handed to Tim on Flying Even Bettor because he was pressing, we got the run and he had his chance but I took some time to get past Tim. He came up trumps again. He knows where the post is. His win, the 8th of 11 starts for All Stars, Trevor Casey and stable associate Mike Woodlock, lifted his total earnings to nearly $500,000, not a bad return for the $30,000 he cost as a yearling. Initially picked out by the stable, he failed to impress in a veterinary examination. After he was passed in Trevor drew the stable attention to the fact he was still available and it was decided to take the risk. Some risk. Amazingly since 2013, All Stars have won this race with Isaiah, Lazarus, Ultimate Machete and Ultimate Sniper-all raced by Kennard syndicates-Have Faith in Me and Chase Auckland before One Change. It is the only stable in NZ to have won a feature race 7 times in a row a feat it has now achieved twice. While One Change went about his business in his usual efficient manner, drama was the lot of Smooth Deal checked by a breaking Line Up soon after the start and seemingly out of the race. He recovered to make a big run down the back before wilting the last bit for a brave fifth. Flying Even Bettor went a mighty race too wresting the early lead, setting a strong pace and just going down over the final stages. “He was a little hard to rate down the back. He was flopping along one minute and hard on the bit the next. So that was a big effort”Tim said. Mark refused to concede Smooth Deal was a special beaten but did go as far as to say he would have been “right in it” but for the early check. JEAN WASN’T THERE BUT THE RESULT WAS THE SAME ! It was back to business as usual in the Alabar Sires Stakes Filly Championship as Amazing Dream added her name to the list at least partly because of the skills of the serial winner of the G1 feature, Natalie Rasmussen. Natalie bided her time longer than perhaps some were expecting at the back, flushed out Ricky May and Stylish Memphis with a round to go and in the end was a convincing winner making her to top filly of the season to date with more to come. It was Natalie’s 5th driving win in the race since 2013 the first being Willow owned by Bill Feiss. His wife Jean has won the race a further three times and Natalie steered Golden Goddess to win for the Butterworths to give the stable its 5th win in the race also. Before the race much was made of the draw and how the smart fillies Spellbound and Need You Now were a danger on the front line but in spite of a lead-trail scenario they only battled in the run home leaving Stylish Memphis and Amazing Dream to fight it out. It must have been deja vu for Stylish Memphis’s co -trainer Mark Jones as Delightful Memphis, a full sister, had been runner up to Spanish Armada in her year before going on to a distinguished career. What was also unusual about yesterday’s race was that Jean Feiss was not there. An indefatigable traveller to New Zealand from Australia to watch her horses race, she was in Malta on New Year’s Eve and could not be there. The winning of the race may well have been Natalie’s ability to give her charge cover down the back straight but the determined filly left no excuses, powering away over the final stages. Natalie had also nailed Dina Bolt’s hopes doubting the crushing odds the public had about him. She gave him a nice drag in the trail, he took some time to wind up and while going strongly at the finish had to settling for second, Courtesy of The Allstars Site

By Michael Guerin The promise that is Self Assured against the proven reality of Thefixer and Cruz Bromac. That may be the story of tonight’s $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park. And for all the talent of the trio of stablemates, and their eight other opponents in the 3200m group one, it may be manners that decide the last great race of 2019. Self Assured is a special horse, maybe the best horse in waiting in tonight’s classic. He only started racing seven months ago, has barely raced in New Zealand at all and yet is the $1.70 favourite tonight over two New Zealand Cup winners. The reason is simple. He is all x-factor, his sole two open class starts both leaving no doubt he has the motor for the big time after just nine career starts. If he steps and behaves himself the four-year-old may have too much speed for his older, more established rivals who have been through a fortnight in the furnace of the Inter Dominions. But for all his promise, the fact he is the Miracle Mile favourite and his dazzling sectionals, there is one jarring reason to be careful about taking odds-on for Self Assured tonight. He had two standing starts against the big boys in the spring and missed away slightly in both. Tonight slightly could be costly. “That is the worry for him,” admits champion trainer and Self Assured’s driver tonight Mark Purdon. “He has been slow in his two standing starts and while he wasn’t bad away, against these horses it could be the difference. “He is a really good horse and might still win but if he is slow away and has to give horses like Thefixer a start then it is going to be hard for him. “So the start will be crucial. He could actually begin well but horses like Thefixer and Cruz Bromac are far more proven than him.” Both Thefixer and Cruz Bromac were excellent in the Inter Dominion pacing final two weeks ago and if they can work toward the lead and get on the marker pegs a 3:55 time for 3200m is within their capabilities every day of the week. Whereas Self Assured could pace the same time but might have to do it coming wide. Maybe he can, maybe not yet. But there is no value in taking $1.70 to find out. Purdon is warming to Thefixer after his luckless but very brave Interdom campaign and he has worked well since while there is no reason Cruz Bromac can’t add this Cup to last month’s New Zealand Cup as he ticks almost all the boxes. Others like Classie Brigade, Mach Shard and even Chase Auckland could place but winning would surprise. Purdon is beaming about the work of Oscar Bonavena but realise the young trotter may have to sit parked or be driven off the speed to win tonight’s $100,000 National Trot. “But it doesn’t bother me driving him with a sit, especially over 2700m. “He is our best chance and while Winterfell is good his manners haven’t been perfect recently.” The stables rates One Change as the better chance over Smooth Deal because of the draw in tonight’s $200,000 Sales Series Pace. Dunn has confidence with his two fillies By Michael Guerin Trainer Robert Dunn doesn’t have to search far to find confidence his fillies can beat red hot favourite Amazing Dream in tonight’s $150,000 Alabar Sires’ Stakes at Alexandra Park. Because they did it two starts ago under almost identical circumstances to tonight’s Group One. While the market suggested Amazing Dream is all but a good thing in the 2200m event it almost seems to have amnesia about how the race panned out two starts ago. Back then on December 6 the Dunn-trained pair of Spellbound and Need You Now led and trailed respectively and held off Amazing Dream after she had to sit parked the last lap. The trio met again a week later and on that occasion, after Need You Now was forced to work too hard early and Spellbound settled back, with Amazing Dream too strong for them before holding out the late run of Stylish Memphis. While there is no doubting Amazing Dream is the best of this filly crop tonight’s Group One shapes far more like the race two starts ago when she was beaten. She might have been a bit soft that night and clearly improved off it but she is anything but a certainty tonight. “She is very good Amazing Dream, we all know that,” said Dunn. “But we think we have two fillies who can beat her again. “It looks like our two will lead trail again and I suppose under those circumstances Need You Now would be our best winning chance.” Need You Now should cross to the lead from barrier two and then hand up to Spellbound (three) while Amazing Dream will probably need to pull back from one on the second line to get off the markers and then make her mid-race move. That means she could be giving the Dunn fillies a 10 length start. Spellbound may actually be the more athletic of the two Dunn-trained fillies but if she leads there is nothing surer than Amazing Dream will come looking before the 800m and probably put the pressure on. So that could aid Need You Now and if the sectionals get really serious then a swooper like Stylish Memphis comes into play as she stormed home last start. In all reality Amazing Dream might be good enough to come sit parked and crush her rivals and if you were getting $2 you would take it all day. But at the $1.70 on offer with so much going against her. Dunn and his son John, who have been one of the most defiant training-driving combinations against the wave of All Stars success, also have hopes in the other three black type races today. They will need more than luck with Down To The Bone and Mighty Looee in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace but Valloria was so good when fourth in the Inter Dominion Trotting Final he could have a role to play in the $100,000 National Trot. “He has really improved since coming north,” says Dunn. “He has toughened up to open class racing quicker than I thought and while he might not win he can get some good money.” Classie Brigade returns to standing start racing in the $250,000 Auckland Cup after a luckless Inter Dominions and if he can begin quickly and get on the markers he can place, as he did in the New Zealand Cup last month. “Back to the stand really suits him and he has come through the Inters great. He still has one of the fastest 3200m times in the race.”

By: Michael Guerin The horses in tomorrow's $250,000 Auckland Trotting Cup at Alexandra Park might be some of the best on the planet but they won't be the stars of the show. Because for many in the crowd the real darlings of the day are in the other Auckland cup. The Auckland Kidz Kartz Cup is worth more than money, which is just as well because it doesn't have any winning stake. At almost every major harness race meeting, there is a pony trot to complement the serious adult stuff on the track. Tiny ponies with drivers sometimes as young as 10, but decked out in the same racing colours as their adult heroes, race over 800m. Often, drivers and even the ponies come from round the country, sometimes Australia. And as cute as they are, don't think pony trots are just a bit of fun. Little horses are big business and to the 10-16-year-olds involved this is the real deal. The ponies have specially made sulkies and harness, their drivers operate under proper Harness Racing New Zealand rules. They can even get suspended because Kidz Kartz is all about teaching youngsters how racing works. "We have four clubs in the North Island alone," says Kidz Kartz co-ordinator Gayleen MacKinnon. "The kids can go along once or twice a week to drive the horses and learn how to take care of them. "Some families have their own ponies, others don't and the ponies are kept in racing condition for us and then their drivers are drawn by lot for the big races. "It teaches the youngsters how to look after their ponies, themselves, and how to be responsible." The ponies, some of which are shorter than your average german shepherd, race over 800m tomorrow and because of their varying sizes and the experience levels of the drivers they have handicap races. The ponies have a parade before they race and the crowds love it, especially the children, and there is no doubting the most Instagrammed horses at Alexandra Park's twilight meeting will be the ones under a metre tall. "People just love them and we make sure we present them and the drivers properly," says MacKinnon. The Kidz Kartz has also been a gateway for youngsters looking to one day have a career in the racing industry. One of its star graduates is champion older driver Zac Butcher who drives in the real Auckland Cup at 8.08pm tomorrow. The meeting is one of the biggest of the harness racing season, with four major races and an earlier-than-usual finish to the racing to be followed by a fireworks display at 9.30pm. Reprinted with permission of The New Zealand Herald

By: Michael Guerin A horse who hasn't won a race in New Zealand for 13 months is emerging as the danger to the favourite in Tuesday's $250,000 Auckland Trotting Cup. But if Thefixer is to break his domestic duck in Alexandra Park's greatest race he is going to have to down the latest new big thing of the pacing ranks in Self Assured. Thefixer is set to be the big shortener in the Trillian Trust-sponsored Cup after drawing barrier one from where he should be able to use his standing start manners to settle handy or even lead. That could give him a big tactical advantage over hot favourite Self Assured who, while he has drawn well at barrier three, doesn't yet have the proven standing start manners of his stablemate. Self Assured has been all the rage in the Auckland Cup market since it was announced he would be allowed to miss the recent Inter Dominions to concentrate on this and other features later in the summer. He emerged late in his 3-year-old season last June during a stunning Queensland campaign and while he has limited open class experience he oozes class. Self Assured reminded everybody of his enormous ability when thrashing intermediate grade horses on Interdom Grand Final night and if Tuesday night's race comes down to raw speed he might simply be too good for his older, more battle-hardened rivals. "He is going to be hard to beat, especially the way he is working," said Matt Bowden, the travelling foreman for the All Stars stable. "He is working like a very, very good horse still on the way up but he still has a bit to learn and doesn't have a lot of standing start experience. "I think if he steps he might actually step really quickly but I suppose he isn't as proven from a stand as some of our other ones." Any manners concerns for Self Assured, be they real or presumed, could be another reason Thefixer is the market mover. Those not keen on the odds-on for Self Assured will go hunting for one of his stablemates to back against him and the ace draw could make Thefixer their favoured target. He was a big improver during the Inter Dominion series and did a huge job to finish third in the final behind his now-injured stablemate Ultimate Sniper. Thefixer hasn't won a race in New Zealand since his New Zealand Cup success of 13 months ago and at times this spring it looked questionable whether he would find his best form again as he battled hoof issues. But since coming to Auckland he has looked a happier horse and his Interdom Final performance suggested he is almost back to his New Zealand Cup best of last year. If he can use his standing start manners to lead or trail early and then not have to cover any extra ground it would take a very good version of Self Assured to give him much of a start and a beating. Senior co-trainer Mark Purdon is likely to drive Self Assured while Natalie Rasmussen will work Thefixer this morning and looks set to partner him which could see Blair Orange re-united with Cruz Bromac, who he drove to win last month's New Zealand Cup. They are three of five the all-conquering Purdon-Rasmussen stable have in the 3200m Cup and they will dominate the market, with Chase Auckland the one least-suited by the standing start conditions as he has to start in the unruly. The Cup will run at 8.08pm at the twilight meeting that kicks off with a 4.06pm start. Earlier in the programme Inter Dominion Trot champ Winterfell is likely to need a new driver in the $100,000 National Trot even though he has drawn the ace. Purdon, who drove him in the Inter Final, looks set to stick with stablemate Oscar Bonavena, who has been stunning at times this season and jogged to victory in the Flying Mile at Cambridge last Tuesday. Oscar Bonavena faces the toughest test of his career on Tuesday as he is likely to settle off the speed against Winterfell (barrier one), Majestic Mac (2), and Enhance Your Calm (5) in a race which also contains Temporale, Massive Metro, Marcoola and Paramount King, making it the strongest trotting race in New Zealand in the last three years. One Change has drawn to continue his outstanding big-race record in the $200,000 PGG Wrightson Sales Series Pace, with barrier two ensuring he will start a hot favourite, especially as his last-start conqueror Copy That is not a sales horse and therefore ineligible. But the All Stars won't get things all their own way in the $150,000 Alabar Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship, with red hot pre-draw favourite Amazing Dream to start from the inside of the second line. Auckland Cup night • Where: Alexandra Park • When: Tuesday, first race at 4.06pm • What: Auckland's biggest harness racing meeting. The fields for the two open-age Group Ones at Alexandra Park's twilight Auckland Cup meeting on Tuesday are. Race 7, 7.06pm: Sim Pacific Metals National Trot, $100,000, 2700m mobile. 1: Winterfell 2: Majestic Man 3: Valloria 4: Destiny Jones 5: Enhance Your Calm 6: Oscar Bonavena 7: Marcoola 8: Massive Metro 9: Temporale 10: Paramount King 11: Woodstone (ur) Race 9, 8.08pm: Trillian Trust Auckland Cup, $250,000, 3200m. 1: Thefixer 2: Another Masterpiece 3: Self Assured 4: Check In 5: Cruz Bromac 6: Classie Brigade 7: Star Galleria 8: On The Cards 9: Mach Shard 10: Triple Eight 11: Chase Auckland (ur) Reprinted with permission of The New Zealand Herald

Inter Dominion pacing champion Ultimate Sniper won’t be asked to add the Auckland Cup to his summer spoils but plenty of those he beat last Saturday will. And while many punters and harness racing fans are still catching their breath after the huge fortnight at Alexandra Park, most of the plans are now in place for where the elite standardbreds go next. The most important impact on markets will be the news Ultimate Sniper, who was unbeaten during the Inter series, will be allowed to miss the rest of the northern summer, including the Cup at Alexandra Park on December 31. He will instead return to Christchurch and be set for the the Miracle Mile carnival in February where his first main aim will be the Chariots of Fire, victory in which would qualify him for the A$1million Miracle Mile on March 7. He isn’t the only star of the Inter series who will miss the Auckland Cup, with two-time heat winner A G’s White Socks to return to former trainers Greg and Nina Hope while all the Australians who contested both the pacing and trotting series are heading back across the Tasman. But while Ultimate Sniper drops out of the All Stars team for the Cup, last Saturday’s stunning support race winner Self Assured comes into Cup reckoning and joins most of the hardened open class brigade. Many of the trotting grand finalists will head to Cambridge next Tuesday but others will wait for the National Trot on December 31 while one of the biggest surprises is that only one of the top three-year-old pacers will head to the Victoria and NSW Derbys and that is Smooth Deal. Plans for a potential Perth campaign for one of the All Stars open class pacers, to target the Fremantle and West Australia Cups, have also been shelved. Here is a race by race look at the plans for the rich summer of harness racing ahead to assist you with your futures betting. Note, intended programmes can change because of performance.   PACERS Auckland Cup (Dec 31): Self Assured, Chase Auckland, Cruz Bromac, Thefixer, Ashley Locaz, Another Masterpiece (all All Stars); Mach Shard, On The Cards (Barry Purdon); Classie Brigade (Robert Dunn); Triple Eight, Check In (Steve Telfer) Notable absentees: Ultimate Sniper (short break), A G’s White Socks (returning south), Belle Of Montana (free-for-all same night), Henry Hubert, all eight of the Australian Inter Dominion contenders (returned home). Melbourne: Cruz Bromac, Chase Auckland, Thefixer, Ashley Locaz (Ballarat Cup, Casey Classic or Hunter Cup); Self Assured (Bonanza at Melton, Jan 25); Belle Of Montana (Ladyship Mile, February 1). Triple Eight possible for Hunter Cup. Smooth Deal (Vic Derby heat and final). Sydney: Ultimate Sniper (two preludes of Chariots Of Fire, then A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire on Feb 22 and Miracle Mile if qualified); Self Assured (Miracle Mile prelude Feb 29 then Mile on March 7). Mach Shard (possible Miracle Mile preludes and final). Belle Of Montana (Ladyship Mile on March 7, may need to race in prelude if she doesn’t win automatic qualifer at Melton).
Smooth Deal NSW Derby and preludes. Most other Kiwi three-year-olds including carnival star Copy That to stay in New Zealand, some to race in Sales Series at Alexandra Park on Dec 31 then be set for local Derbys, unless sold or exported.     TROTTERS Cambridge, Flying Mile (Dec 24): Oscar Bonavena and Enhance Your Calm (All Stars); Marcoola (Barry Purdon), Temporale (Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett), Majestic Man (Phil Williamson). Alex Park, National Trot (Dec 31): Oscar Bonavena, Enhance Your Calm, Winterfell, Temporale, Massive Metro, Paramount King, Majestic Man, Valloria, Woodstone (possible). Tickle Me Pink to race in lower grade race same night. Absentees: Lemond (stress fracture, out for season), Monty Python (returning south), Credit Master (fighting infection, out for summer). Victoria for Dullard Cup and Great Southern Star (Jan 25 and Feb 1): Oscar Bonavena, Enhance Your Calm, Massive Metro, Temporale. Winterfell only 50-50 for Victorian campaign with decision made after the National Trot.   Michael Guerin

Boom pacer Turn It Up only solidified his place as the most exciting pacer in the southern hemisphere following his clinical yet dominant victory in the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park tonight (Monday). Facing the starter for only the 9th time in his career, the Courage Under Fire gelding was confidently backed to win the 3200m stand-start feature and safely held Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz to claim his maiden feature. But it looks the first of many more to come. And he’s another star off the production line of All Stars – Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. The victory provided the Purdon family with their 15th Auckland Cup, the premier pacing event in the North Island. It’s also the fourth straight success for the All Stars following on from Vincent, Dream About Me and Have Faith In Me in the previous years. Overall, Mark Purdon has been directly involved with seven (7) Cup winners – Turn It Up, Vincent, Dream About Me, Have Faith In Me, Auckland Reactor, Young Rufus plus his inaugural winner Sharp And Telford. The All Stars stable had the bulk of the runners in this year’s version with five runners engaged in the 12 horse field, they managed to finish 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th plus a failed to finish. But the focus is clearly on the winner; the four-year-old oozes class coupled with great staying prowess and looks a certain future star of the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit. A last start winner of the Franklin Cup, Purdon got him away safely and made his early move to find the lead with approximately 2400m left to run while Dream About Me sat behind him followed by Jacks Legend. The lead time was covered in 2:04.5. Star Galleria made an early move and raced outside Turn It Up with 1400m left to run before he gained cover on the back of Ashley Locaz as the field swung into the home straight to reach the judge and the bell. The first half of the final mile was posted in 31.5 and 32.6 seconds. Those sectionals spelt disaster for his rivals and Purdon allowed him to stride freely down the back straight while his rivals attempted to make a race of it with him. The third split was timed in 28.2 seconds. In the straight, Turn It Up safely held Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz who chased determinedly. The final section was covered in a spine tingling 26.1 seconds. And the winning time was 4:03.0 – a mile rate of 2:02.1 – well outside of the race record held by Dream About Me (2016) at 3:55.4. “He’s an exciting horse and we’ve always held him in high regard, I was confident he would handle this way of going and he hasn’t disappointed.” Mark Purdon said. When assessing the achievement of Turn It Up, Mainland Banner quickly springs to mind when she won the 2005 New Zealand Cup at her 12th race start….it’s truly extraordinary! Looking ahead, connections have so many options to consider including the upcoming Victorian summer carnival features, Chariots of Fire, Taylor Mile & Messenger in Auckland, Jewels and the Vicbred series among others. The next leg of the 2018/19 APG Grand Circuit heads to Perth for the running of the $450,000 WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park on January 18. Chris Barsby

Two legends of New Zealand racing shared a remarkable Auckland Trotting Cup victory with Turn It Up at Alexandra Park last night. But sadly only one of them was there to see it. Turn It Up did what no pacer had ever done before, winning Auckland’s richest harness race at just his ninth start. Still just a baby he led almost throughout for champion trainer-driver Mark Purdon and unleashed a 54.3 second last 800m to beat a brave Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz, leaving harness insiders wondering just how far Turn It Up can go. But with every step he takes on that path there will be an air of sadness as one of the men who he was purchased for as a yearling won’t be there to enjoy it. His former co-owner Neil Pilcher was one of the best known and popular owners in New Zealand racing, having shook the hands of probably half the horsepeople in the country during his decades transporting horses. He was a major owner for the All Stars Stable until he passed away just a few months ago before he could see Turn It Up win what would have been the first Auckland Cup for the man affectionately known as Pilch. “Neil loved the stock of Courage Under Fire and this was the one we bought that particular year for him so obviously we are sad he is not here to enjoy it,” said Purdon. Pilcher’s brother Lee has taken a small share to keep the family connection there but one of the other owners of Turn It Up might have created a unique piece of New Zealand racing history all of his own last night. Jim Gibbs is a thoroughbred training Hall of Famer and universally respected after a wonderful career as a galloping trainer and has now owned an Auckland Cup winning pacer 30 years after training Spyglass to win the thoroughbred racing equivalent.  I won an Auckland Cup with her and was beaten a narrow margin a couple of times but this is a lot of fun,” said Gibbs, whose wife Ann also shares in the ownership of Turn It Up. Joining them in the winner’s circle was Gibbs’s son Chris, who five days earlier co-trained Danzdanzdance to win the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie, continuing the impressive family doubles. While Turn It Up’s win was expected the shock of the night came in the group one National Trot when Massive Metro outsprinted hot favourite Marcoola up the passing lane. He was beautifully handled by Todd Mitchell to give trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett one of the most satisfying wins of their careers. “This means a lot to me because this horse’s dam, Paris Metro, gave me my first group in this race 14 years ago,” said Wallis. Marcoola did himself no favours galloping in the score up but driver Clint Ford was making no excuses. He would have settled back anyway and didn’t lose that much so we were beaten by the better horse on the night.” There were no such dramas with Ultimate Sniper as he led throughout to win the $200,000 Sales Series Pace while Belle Of Montana divebombed Wainui Creek in the last stride to win the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championships. Earlier in the day favourite punters were left with a black eye and then a bleeding nose when first $1.10 chance Smooth Deal galloped and tailed off in the two-year-old race while Oscar Bonevena was a costly failure after an early gallop in race three.   Michael Guerin

There’s a certain something with the name Purdon and the Auckland Cup. The famed North Island feature was first staged back in 1890 when Commodore proved triumphant and since then, so many great champions have won the event. Names like Cardigan Bay, Delightful Lady, Gammalite, Master Musician, Christian Cullen, Monkey King, Im Themightyquinn and Terror To Love  have all proved victorious while many more have all etched their name into the record books. But it’s the name Purdon that is synonymous with the Alexandra Park feature. Whether it is Roy, Barry or Mark – they have all made the race their own! Their haul of winners includes Sole Command, Comedy Lad, Luxury Liner (x 2), Christopher Vance, Chokin (x 2), Sharp And Telford, Holmes DG, Young Rufus and Auckland Reactor. And more recently, they have won it with Have Faith In Me, Dream About Me and Vincent. What’s even more remarkable, the Purdon name has contested the Auckland Cup every year since 1985. Most times with multiple entries. And the 2018 edition is no different. Again, the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup will be staged over the 3200m and the Purdon stables have 8 of the 12 runners. The All Stars (Mark & Natalie Rasmussen) have 5 entrants while Barry has three runners engaged. Sporting the blue and silver livery is classy four-year-old’s All U Need Is Faith, Turn It Up, Sicario and Ashley Locaz while 2016 winner Dream About Me also represents the powerful stable. Mark Purdon All five pacers are racing in super form headlined by millionaire mare Dream About Me and emerging superstar Turn It Up, a last start winner of the Franklin Cup. Big brother Barry has Raptors Flight, Jacks Legend and Mach Shard lining up. Jacks Legend finished 6th behind Vincent last year. Astute mentor Steve Reid has a pair of challengers with the highly regarded Star Galleria and Utmost Delight both engaged. Dream About Me and Utmost Delight are the only mares tackling the famed feature this year. Veteran performer Lets Elope is starting in the Cup for the second time after finishing 5th behind Terror To Love back in 2014. After spending several seasons in Australia, the Real Desire gelding has recently returned to original trainers Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins. Promising four-year-old Triple Eight takes his place for trainer Steve Telfer but faces his biggest challenge to date. Six of the 12 runners are four-year-olds. As it stands, Sydney based pacer Tiger Tara is a clear leader in the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit and while connections have elected to bypass this feature, maximum points are up for grabs which will be crucial as the series hits the halfway mark. Chris Barsby

There have been some highs and some lows for two of the glamour girls of the All Stars pacing team this week. While last season’s champion filly Princess Tiffany has been sidelined and will miss one of her richest targets of the season, stablemate Dream About Me’s chances of winning Monday’s Auckland Trotting Cup may been boosted by a near perfect draw. Princess Tiffany will miss the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park’s huge twilight meeting on Monday as she struggles with what is believed to be a problem in her hocks, although co-trainer Mark Purdon expects she will be back for some of the bigger three-year-old fillies races later in the season. Still after suffering the first two defeats of her career this month and then missing Monday’s race, her classic season has hardly started how her connections would have wanted. Dream About Me has been in outstanding form and will now be locked in a battle for Auckland Cup favouritism after drawing the middle of the front line for the great race. Dream About Me is looking to add Monday’s Cup to the one she won two seasons ago and with her usually reliable standing start manners she has a slight advantage over stablemate and favouritism rival Turn It Up, who has drawn directly outside her. Turn It Up is a veteran of only eight starts and would rank as one of the most amazing winning stories in the proud history of the Cup if he can trump Dream About Me in the $250,000 race, which goes at 8.08pm local time on a programme that starts at 3.15pm. Another of the day’s hotpots in Ultimate Machete has drawn the potentially awkward ace draw in his $200,000 Sales Series Pace and while he may not have the natural gate speed to hold the lead with a fast beginner drawn directly outside him, the small second line should aid him and he will be many punters multi anchor for the day. Marcoola will be odds-on on the $100,000 National Trot even after drawing wide on the front line, especially after several of his key rivals galloped at different stages of the Flying Mile at Cambridge on Christmas Eve. Last season’s National Trot winner Temporale returned to winning form in the Cambridge sprint and with the draws now emerges as the threat to Marcoola, if there is such a thing in open class trotting at the moment. Michael Guerin  

New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer is out of the Auckland Cup.  And he will be joined on the sidelines for that December 31 classic by Ultimate Machete as the pair are instead aimed at Australian races in the New Year.  Trainer Mark Purdon will not enter the high-profile pair for the Alexandra Park feature when nominations close at 11am on Friday for different reasons.  Both horses have spent much of the last two weeks on the water walker at Stephen Boyd’s property and while Purdon is happy with their condition he thinks the Cup will come up too soon for Thefixer. “He had that time off to get his body over the New Zealand Cup win and we don’t want to rush him back,” said Purdon.  “To be ready for the Auckland Cup he probably would have needed to trial next week and I’d rather give him time, maybe go to the Cambridge Mile and then the Ballarat and Hunter Cups in Victoria and even on to the Miracle Mile.”Ultimate Machete missed the New Zealand Cup, for which he was the one-time favourite, and Purdon is reluctant to aim him at standing start races in the near future.  “He actually hurt himself when he galloped away one night and I wouldn’t want to risk that again because then his season could be over.  “So we will let him miss the Auckland Cup and look at the mobile races in Aussie.”  The Purdon-Rasmussen stable still has the two Auckland Cup favourites in Dream About Me and potential star Turn It Up while the likes of All U Need Is Faith, Ashley Locaz and Sicario are others who will be entered for the Cup.  The All Stars northern team arrives on Saturday and will also include Elle Mac for the Queen of Hearts, star three-year-olds Ultimate Sniper and Another Masterpiece and last season’s champion filly Princess Tiffany Michael Guerin

The cloud of doom hovering over the career of Auckland Cup winner Vincent is clearing. The exceptional four-year-old is now rated a good chance of racing again next season just weeks after fears he may need to be retired to stud because of a suspensory injury. Trainer Mark Purdon says the magnificent looking pacer could even be back at the races as soon as early next year. "We are definitely aiming him at getting back to the races, not a stud career," Purdon confirmed to the Herald. "Initially when he got injured it looked like that may not be the case we really feared it might be the end of his racing career. "But things since then have been far more positive." Vincent had just won the Auckland Cup and was favourite for the Ballarat Cup and Chariots Of Fire when he damaged his suspensory in late January. That also ruled him out of the Miracle Mile and he was brought back to New Zealand for a thorough veterinary inspection, which had it suggested he was finished as a racehorse, would have seen negotiations start with stud farms. "But he has been at the clinic at Matamata and they are hopeful that stem cell injections into the area can help it heal 100 per cent," explained Purdon. "He has already had one course and is now on his next and apparently the nature of the injury is not as bad as it can be. So it is very early days but I'd like to think he will be back racing." Even all going well Vincent won't be back to try and thwart stablemate Lazarus's attempt at a third New Zealand Cup come November or the Inter Dominions in Victoria a few weeks later. But if and when he does make it back to the track he will add much needed glamour to the New Zealand pacing stocks. It is almost unprecedented to have so many top horses leave the country or be retired in such a short period of time, with Have Faith In Me, Heaven Rocks and Waikiki Beach having left over the summer while Smolda was retired last year. Add to that the injuries to great mares Dream About Me and The Orange Agent and Auckland Cup runner-up Titan Banner and the cupboard at the highest level is awfully bare. For once the Australian ranks seem to have more depth, with My Field Marshal there now and horses like Chicago Bull, Soho Tribeca and Jilliby Kung Fu having emerged. A fully healthy version of Vincent has done enough to suggest he is as good as them and if he can return to the track he remains the heir apparent to Lazarus, who you would have to think would be retired at the end of next season. One of the genuine class acts to have emerged from the sparse local summer of pacing has been Star Galleria, who blew his rivals away again at Alexandra Park last Friday. After a roller coaster three-year-old season last term he has developed strength to compliment his raw speed but trainer Steven Reid will not stretch him out to 3200m in the Easter Cup at Addington in a few weeks. Even though Star Galleria was a brave fourth in the Auckland Cup over that 3200m distance on December 31, Reid will stick to his original plans and aim him at the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Alexandra Park in late April and May before the Harness Jewels at Cambridge in June. With some possibility Miracle Mile runner-up Jilliby Kung Fu could be lured to New Zealand for the Jewels a clash between he, Star Galleria and Jack's Legend would set that meeting alight. Michael Guerin

Auckland Cup hero Vincent won't be protected from champion stablemate Lazarus as the Miracle Mile looms as pacing's race of the season. The red hot favourite led home a Purdon-Rasmussen trifecta in the $250,000 Cup at Alexandra Park tonight (Sunday), downing Titan Banner and Heaven Rocks in a race of twists and turns. After Titan Banner led early and Vincent trailed punters could have expected that order to remain unchanged but David Butcher driving Northview Hustler had other ideas, deciding he didn't want to sit parked so attacked for the lead. He was successful, Titan Banner came out of the trail to re-take the lead and once that game of cat and mouse calmed down Vincent strolled to the front. The magnificent four-year-old then dawdled through the middle stages before things lit up again when Heaven Rocks worked around to sit parked, attacked down the back straight and even headed Vincent at the 500m before racing erratically. But the favourite kicked back in the style of a potential pacing great and at the line was easily holding Titan Banner. "That was a huge win when you consider he is only four," said Purdon, who watched the race from the outside fence of the parade ring because he is suspended. That meant training partner Natalie Rasmussen reined the winner and Purdon admitted it was a strange feeling watching rather than being out on the track. "But it was great to see all three of them perform to that level and when Tim [Williams, driving Heaven Rocks] attacked it made the last lap exciting. The winner is a wonderful horse but I thought the other two went great and it was good to see Heaven Rocks get around in one piece." The win was followed by Ashley Locaz winning the last race to give the All Stars a remarkable seven winners at the premier meeting from only eight races but now their gaze turns to Australia. Lazarus returns to racing in Perth this Friday and the following two weeks before returning to the eastern states, where Vincent will contest the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire in Sydney on February 10. If they continue on their winning ways both will be invited to the A$750,000 Miracle Mile on February 24 and Purdon says he will not keep the pair apart. "If they are both going well enough and win their way into the Miracle Mile then I wouldn't be scared to start them against each other," he said. So could the new Auckland Cup winner beat the two-time New Zealand Cup winner in Lazarus? "I think he could," says Purdon of Vincent. "I am not saying he would but it is not impossible as Vincent is a very good horse and any horse, even Lazarus, is beatable as we saw in the early heats of the Inter Dominions. "So that could be the first time they clash and I think if it eventuated it would be great for the industry." Earlier, Temporale ended the argument over who is the best trotter racing in New Zealand when he outstayed Speeding Spur in the $100,000 National Trot, the second time he has beaten him this month and suggesting he has earned himself a trip to Victoria next month. Michael Guerin  

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