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By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk    He has already won one Group One race in his short career and now smart juvenile Montana DJ is marching on to try and add a few more to his burgeoning record in the coming months. The Gr.1 Garrards NZ Sires’ Stakes 2YO Final and Gr.1 Harness Jewels 2YO Emerald are firmly on the radar and he will continue his preparation towards those targets in the Garrard’s Sires’ Stakes (Heat 2) Mobile Pace (1700m) at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday. The son of Captaintreacherous won his 1609m trial at Pukekohe a fortnight ago following a freshen-up after his win in the Gr.1 Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes (1700m) at Alexandra Park last month. Trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan are pleased with the way he has returned and said they elected to bypass the Gr.2 Welcome Stakes at Addington last week in favour of the Sires’ Stakes heat. “He’s come through that race well and had a good trial about 10 days ago and he is forward enough,” Phelan said. “There wasn’t really much for them in the way of two-year-old races. There was the Welcome Stakes which wasn’t good timing for them having to travel down there and then travel back home, or stay down there for six weeks.” Montana DJ will continue his rivalry with the Graeme Rogerson-trained Classy Operator on Thursday, who he has beaten in his last two outings. “He is a nice enough horse, that one of Rogerson’s, but we have got a good draw (1) so we will see what happens,” Phelan said. Phelan will be in the bike himself behind stablemate Major Perry, who has followed a near identical preparation to Montana DJ. While he has lived in the shadow of his more fancied stablemate, Phelan said he expects his charge to perform well after drawing barrier two. “He has finally got a good draw, so he will settle pretty handy and will go a good race,” he said. As well as the Sires’ Stakes Final and Harness Jewels, the Listed Harness Million is also in the sights for both runners at Addington next month. “They will head down for the Sires and Harness Millions and then head to the Jewels,” Phelan said. “We will just try and find a suitable race in a fortnight or just give them a trial before they head to Christchurch.” The Clevedon stable will also contest the Dunstan Horse Feeds Mobile Pace (2700m) on Thursday with Montana Storm and Montana Jet. Montana Storm recorded their maiden victory at Cambridge Raceway last week, while Montana Jet extinguished his chances in his 2200m contest when breaking down the back straight. “Montana Storm got a deserved win,” Phelan said. “He has gone some good races at Auckland and the drop back to Cambridge he got his win, which was good. “Montana Jet got a couple of things wrong, but he is a nice enough horse. He is probably the better of the two chances.” View the Cambridge fields click here!

Two of the north’s best pacers are joining the mane drain to Sydney but at least one them will be back in a month. Stablemates Bad To The Bone and Mach Shard will both be in Sydney by the weekend, with Bad To The Bone already there to race this Saturday while Mach Shard flies over on Friday. Bad To The Bone has joined the Paul Fitzpatrick stable for a Chariots of Fire campaign which begins in a qualifying race the $50,000 Hondo Grattan at Menangle this Saturday. Co-trainer Barry Purdon says the four-year-old will stay until after the Miracle Mile carnival. “He will definitely come back, it is just a one-month campaign,” says Purdon, who trains in partnership with Scott Phelan. “He has got through to a very tough mark very quickly over here and obviously started in the Auckland Cup last start even though he has only won five races. “So I’d rather target a good four-year-old race like the Chariots than race here in open class. “The series maybe doesn’t look quite as strong as some years when the Chariots can be like a very good open class race and I think Menangle will suit him cause Addington did. “Paul said he worked well Wednesday morning so has settled in well so we will see how he goes on Saturday. “But after the meeting there he can come home and be set for the Taylor Mile, Messenger and Jewels as we want to support those.” The future plans for former Inter Dominion runner-up Mach Shard are more fluid as he flies to Sydney to join Belinda McCarthy, who has taken over the official running of the Craig Cross team as Cross steps away for leg surgery. “I want to give Luke and Belinda a crack with him,” says Purdon. “I haven’t been totally unhappy with him but he is still racing below his best and I think the change of scenery could be good for him. “They have water walkers and pools and a lot of things we don’t have here and the change of racing style may suit him too. “So he will go there and we will see how he goes. It is not impossible he comes home again.” The loss of Mach Shard continues the decimation of the northern open class ranks with Star Galleria also having joined the McCarthy stable while Triple Eight is based in Victoria as of this week and On The Cards has been sold to the United States. That rips the heart out of the northern open class ranks and while none of them are good enough to beat Copy That most weeks they are important to fill open class fields and add genuine depth, with Star Galleria and Triple Eight former Auckland Cup placegetters. The north is lucky to have a horse as good as Copy That but finding rivals to race him could be the problem.   HRNZ

By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk    The renewed training partnership of Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan will have a strong presence at Alexandra Park on Thursday night, with 18 representatives. The stable’s charge will be led by Wainui Creek, Belle Of Montana, and Mach Shard in the Garrards Horse & Hound Pukekohe Handicap Pace (2200m), where they will tackle impressive last start winner Copy That. Wainui Creek has drawn one on the front row and Phelan is confident of a bold showing from the Group One winner, who he will drive on Thursday. “Wainui Creek is generally pretty good away from the stand and being 2200m it is a race that will suit her,” Phelan said. “I think she will be a decent enough chance on Thursday.” Phelan labelled Belle Of Montana as the stable’s leading light in the race after her first-up runner-up effort, but he said she will need to be on her game from her 20m mark. “It was a good performance first-up,” he said. “It’s a small field, but 20m is enough of a handicap. She will finish off the race as she usually does and hopefully it is good enough.” Mach Shard will also start from the 20m mark and Phelan said if he steps away well he should be competitive. “He is generally good away from the stand. If he can get in front of Copy That he will be a pretty good chance,” he said. While hopeful his trio will perform well on Thursday, Phelan admitted it will be a tough ask to beat the in-form Copy That, who will start behind the 10m tape. “Copy That dominated last time and he looks like he has stepped up, which you expect from the good ones. It will be a really good race,” Phelan said. Earlier in the night the Clevedon horsemen will be looking to kick off the night in winning fashion, with five representatives in the opening race on the card, the Jeremy Young Racing Stables F & M Mobile Pace (2200m). Phelan will take the reins behind consistent filly Sky Delight, who has finished runner-up in all three of her career starts to date, and pleased her trainers with her workout win at Pukekohe last week. “Sky Delight is a really nice filly, she raced really well last time,” Phelan said. “She has trialled up well, so I expect a good run.” Last start placegetters Jemma and Dixie Reign, along with debutants Angel Of Montana and Miss Montana, will complete the stable quintet in the race. “Jemma went a pretty good race last time, she won’t be too far away,” Phelan said. “Dixie Reign is going to need a bit of luck from out there (barrier 7). She has had a few starts now and is hardened enough. “Angel Of Montana has got a bad draw (8) and will have to be driven for luck this week, but she is a nice enough filly. “And Miss Montana has been pretty good at the trials. She is quite a nice filly, so it will be good to see her go around.” Of the stable’s other starters, Phelan highlighted four-year-old trotter Horace Horse as one of their better chances on Thursday. The son of Quaker Jet has won his only start to date and he will be out to keep his undefeated record intact in the Haras des Trotteurs Handicap Trot (2700m). “Horace Horse has come back really well,” Phelan said. “He looks quite a nice horse. He has trialled up really well and we expect him to be pretty hard to beat as long as he does everything right.”

Trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan have reason to celebrate even before they head to Alexandra Park tonight look for more. The long-time friends have lodged papers this week to resume their training partnership in the new season, nine years after last training together. Phelan cut his teeth working with Hall of Famer Purdon and they trained together from 2008 to 2011 before Phelan briefly moved overseas. The 38-year-old first worked for Steve Telfer when he returned from his time in Australia but has been with Purdon for the last few years and is thrilled to be re-entering their partnership. “It is like coming home to me,” says Phelan. “It is a wonderful property which I love and Barry and Katrina have been great to me. “And we have some lovely horses here so I am looking forward to next season even more now.” Purdon may have nothing left to prove in harness racing but he has rarely trained better, with his strike rate last season the highest of his career, albeit with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity these days. “Scott and I get on really well and he is a great worker. But the quality I admire most is he cares about the horses and getting the job done well,” offered Purdon. While the partnership won’t officially resume until the new season in August, the stable could easily have two winners tonight. They have both Major Jellis (10m handicap) and On The Cards (55m) in tonight’s main pace where they clash with NZ’s best three-year-old pacer in Hard Copy (45m) and in-form mare Callie’s Delight (30m). The small field and step up to 2700m distance may partially negate the handicaps for the favourites but the tempo for the first mile of the race could dictate their chances “I think On The Cards will be better for his fresh up run but these are tricky races,” says Purdon. Rival trainer Ray Green feels the same with Hard Copy, who be believes is forward enough to win yet still at the improving stage. “I am happy with him but he has been away for a while and a lot will depend on how fast they go and where they all end up in the running,” says Green. Purdon has impressive debut runner-up Marathon Man in the first race at tonight’s race Wednesday meeting at Alexandra Park, in which he has barrier one rather than the poor barrier he had to come from last start. “He was very good behind what looked a nice maiden winner last start and should be hard to beat,” he says. One of the other highlights of the night is the return of Credit Master and Kenny’s Dream in the main trot (race five) but like Copy That they face big handicaps fresh up and may have to chase a race fit rival like Tricky Ric who won the comparable race last start but doesn’t receive a penalty for that.   Michael Guerin

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Multiple Group-placed pacer On The Cards may be the highest rated horse at Alexandra Park on Thursday by some margin, but trainer Barry Purdon believes he will still need to be on his game to overcome his 45m handicap. Purdon has been pleased with On The Cards’ two runner-up workout performances in the lead-up to Thursday and said he should be able to account for his three rivals in the Welcome Back Fans Of The Park – We Missed You Handicap Pace (2200m). “He ran second last Friday at Pukekohe, he went quite well,” Purdon said. “They ran home in 26 and a bit. “He has trained on well through the week and he worked nicely this (Tuesday) morning. He should go pretty close. “45m behind is fair enough for him. He has over a 100 rating and it is only 2200m so it will even everything up pretty well, but he will need to do everything right.” If he performs up to expectations on Thursday, Purdon said On The Cards would unlikely be seen back at the track until the new season. “If he wins he probably won’t get another start until the start of next season. “That is fair enough, he will be well over the ratings of the other horses, so you have just got to accept that is the way it is. “He probably won’t resume until the middle of August, after this race.” While the son of Bettor’s Delight has placed at Group level on five occasions, he has yet to taste victory at that level, and Purdon is hoping to change that in the coming season. “He has been a good horse to us,” he said. “He made the Inter Dominion Final and he has been pretty consistent all year. “We will just take it as it comes.” On The Cards will be joined by stablemates Major Jellis and Marathon Man at ‘The Park’ on Thursday and Purdon is expecting a bold showing from both geldings. Major Jellis resumed with a third-placing at Alexandra Park a fortnight ago and Purdon expects to see plenty of improvement when he contests the Breckon Farms Mobile Pace (2200m). “He has taken a lot out of that run. He may have been a wee bit short. He just had the one trial and it was a bit of a soft affair. “We gave him a bit of a run here on Saturday and he worked really nice. He has got a good draw (4), so he should be a little bit better than he was last time.” Stablemate Marathon Man will make his debut in the Alabar Mobile Pace (2200m) and Purdon is cautiously optimistic heading into the race. The son of Sweet Lou dead-heated with fellow debutant and race rival Hot And Treacherous at the Pukekohe workouts last week and Purdon took plenty of confidence from the run. “He went pretty well in his trial,” Purdon said. “Unfortunately he has drawn eight, which is not easy in any race. “He is only having his first start, so it might not be that easy for him. Whatever he does he will be a bit better for anyway, but he should still go well.”

Champion trainer Barry Purdon is happy to be heading back to the races but he admits he would like to be taking twice as many horses. Purdon returns to his home track at Alexandra Park on Thursday night for the first horse racing meeting in Auckland since lockdown began way back in late March. The meeting has attracted only the six races, possibly as the trainers of many of those who resumed at Cambridge last Sunday would be reluctant to back up just four days later after such a long break from racing. But that doesn’t affect Purdon as he was only aiming two horses at the meeting in Major Jellis and On The Cards, with the latter not getting a run in the night’s major pace. He as eliminated for being too highly assessed and while disappointed Purdon can see both sides of the argument. “I feel for his owner Dennis Thompson because he kept the horse going through the winter,” says Purdon. “So I would have liked to see him get a start and I have always believed if there is a race for your horse and he is good enough to start he should get a start. “But I also understand the other side of the argument because he would have been by far the tightest assessed horse in the race. “So even if he had to have a concession driver on I would have liked to see him start but in this case, I can see why he didn’t get in.” On The Cards would have added some comeback class to the meeting but he may have endangered the rating 58 to 77 mobile pace from getting off the ground as even with a preferential draw he would have been on the front line and probably crossed his rivals, led and won. It also would have meant an Inter Dominion finalist starting off the same mark as a horse like Dress Sense, who while unbeaten has only won two minor races at Cambridge and couldn’t be asked to race a horse like On The Cards off levels marks. As Purdon said, two sides to an argument and not as easy one to solve at this time of the year during Covid-19 comeback mode with a small already elite level horse pool. Even without On The Cards, Purdon can still win the $12,000 pacing race of the night as he has Major Jellis drawn the ace and he beat On The Cards at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday. “He is going well and he has shown some gate speed in the past so he will be a good chance,” said Purdon. The stable’s stars Mach Shard and Belle Of Montana have pleased Purdon early in their campaigns, with Belle Of Montana having her first hoppled run this time in on Tuesday morning. “They could both be back racing in late August and I think I could have quite good numbers to be back racing then.” While Thursday’s meeting will be a short and sharp return for the home of northern harness racing the feature trot has secured a nice field and will provide the highlight of the night. One horse who won’t be there is Kratos, last season’s Breeders Crown champion who had been scheduled for a return this week but now needs a bone chip operation and a spell.   Michael Guerin

By Michael Guerin  In Melbourne.— Even basking in the glow of group one glory Barry Purdon couldn’t help thinking of the one that got away. Which is understandable when the one that got away is the A$500,000 Hunter Cup. Purdon provided the star Kiwi turn on a drizzly night at Melton on Saturday when Belle Of Montana led throughout to win the $100,000 Ladyship Cup, clinging on after having to work hard to hold the lead. The win continued her quite remarkable group one record since she burst into the scene as an unknown maiden 18 months ago, having now won six times at the highest level in just 18 starts. Her victory also qualifies her for her next group one assignment the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle in March, where she could clash with arch rival Princess Tiffany. “She will come home now. Because she is qualified she doesn’t have to go to Sydney to get into the Ladyship Mile and that means we can prepare her at home,” said Purdon. But as much pleasure as Purdon took from the perfectly-executed plan, he left Melton knowing the night could have been far more special. He had to scratch Mach Shard from the Hunter Cup just three hours before the race after he showed signs of bruising in a hoof on race afternoon. “It wasn’t a major problem and we got an expert farrier to come re-shoe him to see if it helped but I could feel he wasn’t right,” said Purdon. “It is such a small thing and it could have easily come up a few days later. He is a real shame.” Scratching any horse, particularly a favoured one, from a half million dollar race is a gut punch for a trainer but it was much harder to take because after a crazy set of circumstances, Mach Shard probably would have won the race. The weirdness started on race morning when San Carlo was ruled out by vets so King Of Swing, the former Kiwi pacer, snuck into the field at the last minute. At the time his driver Gary Hall was still in Perth and had to fly to Melbourne to take the reins. That had many experts thinking King Of Swing would lead from barrier three with stablemate Alta Orlando on his back but that theory didn’t even make it to racenight as Alta Orlando was scratched upon arriving on track. Why? Because a stablemate bit him on the neck in the float on the way to the races and Alta Orlando lunged forward and cut his head. Nothing serious but serious enough to miss the race. That meant Mach Shard moved into barrier one where he now looked certain to trail leader King Of Swing until his withdrawal. So what happened next? King Of Swing led, set a pedestrian pace and held on by a nose from trailer Our Uncle Sam, who looked to have him beaten at the 100m mark. Mach Shard, a better sit-sprinter than Our Uncle Sam and guaranteed the same run before his scratching, would have won this Hunter Cup. “I definitely looks that way, the way it all panned out,” said Purdon. Mach Shard will now head to Sydney for the Miracle Mile carnival where King Of Swing, who won the Breeders Crown as a two-year-old when trained by Ray Green, will also head. But several of the Kiwis who failed at Melton won’t be there, including Thefixer and Oscar Bonavena. Thefixer was beaten in a moderate free-for-all field and has trainer Mark Purdon scratching his head so he will go home and spell, his troublesome hooves keeping him from the winner’s circle all season. Oscar Bonavena was a solid but not spectacular fourth in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star won by Tornado Valley, who like almost every other major winner of the carnival led throughout. Oscar Bonavena surged up to sit parked at the bell but proved again he is still developing the toughness to compliment his blinding speed so he will come back to New Zealand and be set for the Rowe Cup carnival. Remarkably, his trainer Mark Purdon did not officially train a winner over the three nights of the carnival. He will now head to Sydney with Self Assured and Hunter Cup placegetter Chase Auckland.  

Training legend Barry Purdon may not win either Inter Dominion final at Alexandra Park tonight but his horses might hold the keys to who does. Purdon rivals his brother Mark for trainer of the carnival as he has three in tonight’s $500,000 pacing final and Marcoola in the $150,000 trotting group one. That is a fair leap from just a month ago when he didn’t even train Marcoola or dual series heat winner A G’s White Socks, while Mach Shard was jarred up after a New Zealand Cup shocker and his other pacing finalist On The Cards had just started his campaign with a third in a moderate race. So Purdon has taken two stable newcomers and two $150 chances and squeezed the absolute best out of them to give them a shot at the title. That, after all, is what horse training at its most basic level is all about. To turn that training genius into something a little more spendable Purdon’s trio in tonight’s $500,000 pacing final are going to need to be in the right place at the right time and for that A G’s White Socks, Mach Shard and On The Cards all have a very valuable weapon: gate speed. They are all on the front line surrounding hot favourite Ultimate Sniper and while anything could happen inside them it looks better than even money one of Barry’s horses will lead early. On The Cards, from barrier four, is the most likely to cross to the pegs but he could easily be joined by Mach Shard and/or A G’s White Socks if they can beat Ultimate Sniper off the gate. That is very possible as Natalie Rasmussen is often neutral for the first 400m of major races. The other side of that coin flip is Ultimate Sniper attaching itself to On The Cards, following it straight across and pretty much waltzing to the lead, which would give it the luxury of a $100 chance on his back and maybe seal the fate of Ultimate Sniper’s rivals. Purdon says his three are all well, have handled the rigours of the series and are ready to run up to the best form. “We know it is going to be hard to beat Ultimate Sniper, when horses start racing like he has during an Inter Dominion they tend to hold that form and I think he will too,” says Barry. “So maybe he will be too good but our horses should be up there and handy and that will give their drivers options.” If an A G’s White Socks or Mach Shard is given free rein to charge forward and can cross Ultimate Sniper then they get their chance to lead and almost certainly trail after so any one of Purdon’s three could sneak into a quinella or trifecta spot. But while it is hard for the master trainer to be too confident of beating Ultimate Sniper, he is more upbeat about an upset in the trotting final. Marcoola was always likely to be a better horse for tonight than in the heats, with the week off a chance for him to put on weight and Purdon to train him, rather than just look after him. He has worked well this week and after driver Sheree Tomlinson impressed Purdon with her patient handling of Marcoola in his heats, the boss is happy for her to power up the big boy tonight. “I will tell Sheree I am happy for her to drive him forward if he feels like that,” says Purdon. “He is fit and ready and we realise if we let Winterfell get his way in front then he might get it too easy so we will probably be rolling forward. “I couldn’t be happier with him and with a horse like Majestic Man fast off the gate too there could be some pressure early.” Purdon has trained 31 winners in just 101 starts this season, giving him a higher strike rate than even the All Stars, and should snare another group one before the Interdom Finals are even run tonight. He has speed freak mare Belle Of Montana headlining a four-pronged attack on the $100,000 Queen Of Hearts and even though she has drawn the second line it shouldn’t matter. Belle Of Montana is so fast she almost certainly would have made the pacing final had she contested the Interdom series and she is racing horses tonight who wouldn’t have. She sat parked to beat most of them last Friday and Purdon says she will be fitter tonight. “She will definitely come on from last week and while she has the second line she is the only horse starting there so Zac (Butcher) has options. And she is probably good enough she could parked and win if she had to.”   Where: Alexandra Park When: Saturday night, first race 5.45pm What: $500,000 Interdom Pacing Final, $150,000 Interdom Trotting Final, $100,000 Queen Of Hearts, $100,000 Peter Breckon Memorial, $50,000 Alabar Classic, $40,000 Lincoln Farms Classic. Support card: Oscar Bonavena, Enhance Your Calm and Tickle Me Pink in the free-for-all trot, Miracle Mile favourite Self Assured in race nine. The Punt: Tote and Fixed all races, $10,000 included in First4 pools for Interdom Finals, head to head markets and special bet options, all at Watch: Live on Trackside 2 (Sky 63) from 5.14pm including live interviews with drivers in pre-race warm ups. On track: Free admission, dining packages sold out but Macs Bar (Party Zone) open on the infield as well as seating still available in stand, Lyell Creek and Alex Park. After party after racing programme finishes.   by Michael Guerin

One of the favourites for the Inter Dominions is set for a dramatic late stable change before the series which starts in Auckland next week. But Marcoola will have to pass a veterinary examination today before his move to Hall of Fame trainer Barry Purdon is confirmed. The national trot mile record holder will join Purdon for the series and possibly the entire summer if a endoscopic examination shows him to be clear of any issues after a disappointing performance in the $300,000 Dominion at Addington last Friday. Marcoola lead and faded from the 400m in the group one and even allowing for the solid tempo he still performed well below his best. That has led to today’s examination, or scope as it is commonly referred to, in which Marcoola will be fast worked and have his airways checked immediately after. "There have been a few horses down here struggling with a virus which is hard to detect,” says unofficial co-trainer Clint Ford. “We are not saying that was the problem last Friday but we want to check it out  before we head north to make sure.” If he does come north Marcoola will join Barry Purdon and be trained wholly by him for the series which begins at Alexandra Park on Friday week. “We are too busy down here with my work and other things to be away for five or six weeks, which is what it would be until the National Trot (December 31). “So we have asked Barry to take him over so he has horses to work with, because when you work him by himself he can go a bit crazy. “I will pop up and see him but if he goes to the series, which he will if be is virus-free, then Barry will be in charge.” Sheree Tomlinson, the grand daughter of Marcoola’s trainer Ken Ford, will retain the drive in the series. With exceptional trotter Oscar Bonavena to miss the Inter Dominion, the best version of Marcoola could return to favouritism for the final to be held on December 14, a rare group one Saturday night meeting at Alexandra Park. In a touch of irony the horse who thrashed Marcoola and the rest of his Dominion rivals, Habibi Inta, will also be staying at Purdon’s Clevedon property but in the care of his trainer Paul Nairn while Australian pacers San Carlo and My Kiwi Mate will also be based there. The latter pair will be part of a seven-strong team of Australian pacers to tackle the Inters, joined by Colt Thirty One (Grant Dixon), Bling It On (Craig Cross), Our Uncle Sam (Chris Frisby), Atomic Red and Conviction (both Steve Turnbull). The Australians will add a crucial new dynamic to the series, with their often aggressive racing style and are the silver lining of the series lacking a champion like Lazarus to scare them away. The trotting series is likely to have three Australians in Tough Monarch, Big Jack Hammer and McLovin but the latter, who flew to Auckland last night, will need to please trainer Andy Gath in a workout tomorrow to prove he is over the thumps he suffered in the Dominion on Friday. Stronger than expected local numbers from trainers like Purdon (three) and Steve Telfer (three) in the pacing series mean there is still a chance of three pacing heats on the three nights of the series but that would depend on how many remain in the series after the final payments this Friday. Robert Dunn will have two in the pacing series and four in the trotters and one of the star locals who was in doubt is Star Galleria (Steven Reid) has passed a vet exam and should make the series. The Auckland Trotting Club would ideally like to run three pacing heats per night but the cut-off for that would seem to be 27 horses so they could card nine-horse heats. If the pacing series reduces to two heats per night they should at least have genuine depth and would raise the possibility of three trotting heats being held per night. That series had 32 horses still entered yesterday but with a few lower-grade horses at the bottom. Again 27 acceptors would seem the cut-off for three heats per night or maybe even 30 for the trotters. “We won’t make any decision around that until we know final numbers and have spoken to the Inter Dominion council,” says ATC president Rod Croon. “But we are thrilled to have the 10 Australians coming to really boost the series and some great local interest.”   Michael Guerin

By Jonny Turner       Leading trainer Barry Purdon’s team enjoyed a perfect hit out before their raid on the New Zealand Cup carnival when scoring four wins at Alexandra Park on Friday night. New Zealand Cup bound pacer Mach Shard completed a nearly perfect preparation of his own in his final lead up race before the New Zealand Cup to round out the Clevedon trainer’s quartet. Mach Shard will head south to compete in the New Zealand Cup trial after improving on two excellent second placings behind Triple Eight to win Friday night’s feature handicap pace over The Devils Own and his stablemate Ball Of Art. “He has had a pretty uninterrupted preparation going in to the cup,” Purdon said. “But, he has been lucky, too, because Zac has had him in the right spot each time.” Bookies have clearly not been impressed with Mach Shard’s spring campaign as they have left the 5yr-old at juicy $41 odds to win on the second Tuesday in November. The Mach Three pacer will be accompanied on his trip south by Wainui Creek, who won her first race since November of last year on Friday night. Getting caught in the parked position after a quick first 400m was not enough to stop the 4yr-old from holding out Sole Ambition in a Purdon stable quinella. Wainui Creek was strong to the line, which thrilled her trainer after she blew out late in her first up run two weeks ago. “I was really pleased with her, I thought the first start she had she just came to the end of it,” Purdon said. “But, to do what she did of Friday night was a good effort.” “She will go down South and start in the mares races on the second day of the cup meeting.” Wainui Creek is eligible for the $40,000 Sires Stakes Southern Mares Classic on Show Day. Major Jellis, who remains unbeaten after winning on Friday night, was eligible for 3yr-old Sires Stakes Series for colts and geldings had Purdon chosen to take the pacer in that direction. However, the trainer decided against having a crack at the series and he will not make a trip south. “We could have had a go at the Sires Stakes heat on Friday night, but he just isn’t ready for that yet.” “He is a bit precocious at this stage.” Friday night’s Sires Stakes heat was won by Line Out, who held out his stablemate Copy That and the Purdon trained Bad To The Bone. Bad To The Bone ran in to third after copping a big check half way down the straight when Ideal Agent ducked in in front of him. That third placing should be enough to secure the 3yr-old a spot in the series final on New Zealand Cup day. Copy That and Line Up were already well up the leaderboard before their quinella last night As were Flying Even Bettor and One Change, who ran first and third in the heat of the series at Addington on Friday night. That should leave plenty of space for Bad To The Bone and Addington runner-up Down To The Bone to make the $170,000 final. Purdon’s bag of four wins at Friday night’ meeting also included Flying Finn, who scored a penalty free win for stable junior driver Nathan Delany.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Belle Of Montana and Tickle Me Pink’s rivals may have finally caught a break.  Because two of the great stories of the harness racing season may have ended simply because the two fillies are so good.  The northern pair won their finals at the Harness Jewels on a rain-soaked Addington on Saturday to cap their amazing seasons.  Belle Of Montana started the term as a maiden and may have finished it a four-time group one winner in two countries, her passing lane sprint to nail Princess Tiffany also guaranteeing her the Filly of the Year title. It came courtesy of a Zac Butcher drive equal parts brave and brilliant and with the highly-valuable filly being owned in Australia it must be very tempting to head there for races like the Queensland Oaks and Breeders Crown.  But champion trainer Barry Purdon is leaning toward sending Belle Of Montana to the spelling paddock instead.  “I think she could be a really good open class mare in the future so I’d be just as happy to give her a break,” said Purdon. “Her owner, Dean Shannon, is great to train for and never puts any pressure on so we will decide in the next few days.  “But if she has a good break now she has plenty of options in the good mares races next season.”Tickle Me Pink’s comeback story is one of the best of the racing season after she got deadly sick during a Victorian campaign last winter, only to come back nine months later and win four major races in six weeks.  She would be a red hot favourite for the fillies division of the Breeders Crown in August and a huge chance in the Victoria Derby but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is keen to think longer term.  “She has achieved a lot in a very short time since she has come back, far more than we could have dreamed,” said Herlihy.  “But I think she can get even better. She is still quite leggy and a bit frail physically so she has some strengthening to do.  “So I’d be keen to miss Australia and give her a good break because in time she could be a really good open class mare.”  Herlihy was one of the stars of Jewels day, having caused a huge upset winning the two-year-old trot with Bolt For Brilliance, the pair giving him his first group one training double in a day.  Add in the third of Dina Brown behind Belle Of Montana and Herlihy rivalled the All Stars for trainer of the day honours, with the fact they trained five group one winners almost feeling normal these days.  While Belle Of Montana’s slushy slingshot job was hard to beat the equine performance of the day had to be Sundees Son, who smashed some open class rivals in the four-year-old trot.  He is about as unimposing as a top horse can be but inside his modest frame lies a huge motor and he now looks certain to win trotter of the year. Even more remarkably for a horse who used to gallop punters to the poor house, he has to be favourite for the Dominion and Inter Dominion.  One Change, Turn It Up, Sweet On Me, Elle Mac and Jesse Duke were all simply too good after racing on the speed, which ended up being crucial on a day where no winner came from further back than fourth with a lap to go.  But that wasn’t the track’s fault. As after torrential rain right up to the first race, the track raced incredibly well, justifying track manager John Denton’s decision to resurface it just a week earlier. Michael Guerin

Welcome to one of the strangest days of the harness racing season.   Most race days have a familiar pattern to them for those close to the horses. They work first, then go to the race and work more, hoping the Racing gods smile on them. Raceday is when, hopefully, when all the work pays off.  Tonight at Alexandra Park and Addington that will still be the case, the desire for winning omnipresent. But unlike any other race day of the year what happens on the track tonight might not impact some quite as much as what is revealed on their computers and phone screens just after noon.  Because that is when the draws come out for Jewels days at Addington tomorrow week.  They are the draws that matter more than for any other meeting. These are, after all, group one sprint races with not only big stakes but enormous breeding repercussions.  So just after noon today some dreams will feel a step closer to becoming reality, other will feel like they have ended.  Then trainers, drivers, owners, punters and bookies can start an eight-day game guessing game before the first ever Addington jewels.  Barry Purdon is one trainer who knows his best Jewels chance Belle Of Montana could be odds-on or $4 next Saturday depending what number the computer spits out today.  He wasn’t at all disappointed with her third to Princess Tiffany in the NZ Oaks last week but if one draws handy and the other the second line this Jewels might be as good as decided.  “They are both very good fillies but if one of them gets a long way in front of the other the one, it is going to be tough to peg back,” muses Purdon. Purdon also has two four-year-old boys heading to the Jewels and they clash in the last at Alexandra Park tonight.  While Benson Boys is enormously improved and not finished winning yet, stablemate On The Cards looks one of the bets of the night. “I don’t give the guys driving instructions but On The Cards seems to like rolling along so I can see him going forward and maybe leading,” says Purdon.  Fifth to Spankem in both the Taylor Mile and Messenger, if he leads tonight he should go to the Jewels a last-start winner.  At Addington some even more high-profile four-year-olds take centre stage as the main race becomes a $13,000 Jewels trial.  The two favourites for the four-year-old emerald in Turn It Up and Ashley Locaz have drawn wide in the 1980m event and the latter will be fitter. So tactics will be crucial but with next week’s race worth almost 12 times as much, don’t expect too many drivers trying to be heroes.  That race also features Elle Mac, one of the hottest favourites of Jewels day for the four-year-old Diamond   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana has been gifted the perfect opportunity to make the Filly of the Year a one-horse race.  Because if she win the $150,000 NZ Oaks at Addington on Friday night the title is certain to be hers and the barrier draws have put her in the box seat to do just that.  The flying Clevedon filly made it three group ones for her debut season when coming from the second line to win the Nevele R Final at Addington last Friday but it was a third victory of a different kind that might be just as important in the FOTY voting.  For the third time in as many meetings Belle Of Montana beat arch rival Princess Tiffany, who was only third and appeared to race at least a couple of lengths below her best.  Princess Tiffany had started favourite and her trainer Mark Purdon suspects the NSW Oaks winner may have suffering from tying up problems last Friday, although a blood test indicated she was not overly affected by a virus which has troubled much of his team.  Excuses aside, Belle Of Montana now has a 3-0 lead in the head-to-head battle with Princess Tiffany so the latter would need to win both the Oaks this Friday and the Jewels on June 1 to have much chance of turning voters back her way in what is one of the more valuable titles handed out at the annual harness racing awards.  The problem for Princess Tiffany is she has drawn the second line again whereas Belle Of Montana is drawn to start from barrier five and one of the likely early leaders is her own stablemate Havtime.  That and the respect Belle Of Montana has earned with her string of group one wins suggest she will have a healthy lead over Princess Tiffany in the first lap of Friday’s 2600m classic. And there is the possibility, backed up by the stats, that Belle Of Montana may simply be the better filly.  The market for the Oaks will open today but the pair share Jewels favouritism at $2 each, which may not change greatly until after the draws on Friday week.  That market split is almost mirrored by the two-year-old male pacers, where One Change is $2 and Smooth Deal $2.20 for the Jewels and they also go head to head this Friday night.  They have both drawn well on the front line so neither should have an excuse in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes and after winning the Sales Series if One Change can down his stablemate again he also take a big lead in their category for the HOTY.  The Sires’s Stakes Trot for the juveniles, the three-year-old Sales Series Trot and an open class trot add some squaregaiting strength to the second-last premier meeting of the season.   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana continued her Australian winning form by beating the best harness racing 3yo fillies New Zealand had to offer when winning the $134,400 Gr1 Nevele R Fillies Series Final at Addington tonight. Run at a hectic pace the fillies final was ideally set up for the Barry Purdon trained Belle Of Montana (Bettor's Delight - Lady Cullen). While the leaders were duelling hard early, driver Zachary Butcher was giving Belle Of Montana a beautiful run on the outer and when the leaders started to battle at the 400m Butcher quickly pounced with Belle Of Montana. She flew home down the middle of the track to win by half a length and beat Kayla Marie who had tracked her into the race at the turn. There was a further 4lengths away to race favourite Princess Tiffany in third. A buzzing Zachary Butcher got a big thrill out of the win. "To be honest that was one of the biggest thrills I have had in a long time," he said after the race. "Sitting on a filly as good as this one and to be where she was with a lap to go aginst good horses and the way she rounded them up, that was pretty awesome," he said. The leaders ran their first 800m of the race in a tick over 55 seconds. "That was always going to suit her, she always comes home good off the speed and thats her style," Butcher said. "She is as quick as any horse I have driven and when they went that hard early and we got a good drag into it, I still had a good handful of her. I thought then, we are a good show here and she put paid to them. "She is getting better and better and is learning to race and is so relaxed and will never overdo herself. When you ask her to go there is always more in the tank," he said. Belle Of Montana who has now won 8 of her 10 lifetime starts ran the 1980m mobile in a new 3yo fillies New Zealand record time of 2-20.5 which equates to a mile rate of 1-54.1 Next up for the Bettor's Delight filly is the Gr1 $150,000 New Zealand Oaks next Friday before heading on to the Harness Jewels on the 1st June. Currently Belle Of Montana has a stranglehold on the No1 position on top of the 3yo Diamond Harness Jewels Leaderboard with double the stakes of the second placed Best Western.  Belle Of Montana winning tonight's final   Harnesslink Media

Champion trainer Barry Purdon may be farewelling one stable star as he rates another potentially the best filly he has ever trained. Purdon pulled off a master plan capturing the A$150,000 Lazarus Victoria Oaks at Melton on Saturday night with Belle Of Montana, thanks in no small way to an ice cool drive from Zac Butcher. Butcher was calm from the ace draw at the start before pulling out to lead soon after, then handed up in the $1.30 favourite at the 1200m mark before beating leader Kualoa for speed up the Melton passing lane. The confidence to hand up on a hot favourite mid-race in Australia can get you abused for weeks and even stain careers if it goes wrong and is one of the great differences in driving styles between the two countries. But Butcher knew what he had in front of him and while she has an all-round game, Belle Of Montana sharpest weapon is her sprint. She adds to the Oaks at just her ninth start to the group on Sires’ Stakes Championship she won at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve and Saturday’s win came down to some meticulous planning from Purdon. He did his research to find out where other stars fillies like Princess Tiffany were going and then set Belle Of Montana for an early Nevele R Fillies heat at Alexandra Park so she would be qualified for that final next month, opening a window for her to contest the Victoria Oaks. With group one victories on both sides of the Tasman she is now one of the most valuable female pacers in Australasia but she faces a more even challenging month ahead. She will clash with NSW Oaks winner Princess Tiffany three times in four weeks as the pair contest the Nevele R Final on May 10, the NZ Oaks a week later and the Jewels on June 1 and if either can win two of those three that would go a long way to securing them the Filly of the Year title. “She is a very, very good filly and could be as good as any female pacer I have had in time,” says Purdon. But as he takes aims at more group ones with Belle Of Montana, Purdon may be saying goodbye to his stable star Jack’s Legend, who is under offer to a United States buyer. “He has been vetted and it sounds like the deal could be done,” said Purdon. “He has done a great job here and will be a very good horse for over there if he is sold.” Jack’s Legend may have only won 10 of his 41 starts but among them was a Harness Jewels three-year-old and he raced the absolute best his entire career, splitting Lazarus and Tiger Tara was second in the New Zealand Cup 18 months ago. To view the video of the race click here.   Michael Guerin

Queensland will have three representatives lining up in the prestigious Group One $150,000 Lazarus Victoria Oaks for the 3YO pacing fillies at Melton on Saturday night. The Sunshine State boasts the favourite and second favourite Belle Of Montana ($1.30) and Smart As Camm Be ($6), and $151 outsider, Betamerica. Belle Of Montana is owned by former Ladbrokes chief, Dean Shannon (Montana Park Pty Ltd); Smart As Camm Be is trained and driven by Kylie Rasmussen, and owned by Pam Smart and her son Chris; while Shannon Price and Raboki Pty Ltd own Betamerica. They have drawn one, six, and 10 respectively. Rasmussen was not perturbed by Smart As Camm Be’s wide draw. “The outside of the front row isn’t the worst possible draw for her because I think she prefers to win her races from back in the field. “Obviously the one-horse is the filly to beat, but if we can get a nice trip and can get one go at them, she has the gait, will, and ability to get close to the favourite – if not beat her,” Rasmussen said. Those comments came three days after Smart As Camm Be waltzed to an easy victory as the $1.50 favourite in the second Victoria Oaks heat at Melton’s Tabcorp Park on Saturday. The Cammibest filly also drew six that night and stopped the clock in 2:43.1. Her mile rate for the 2,240m mobile was 1:57.2. The Barry Purdon trained and Zachary Butcher driven Belle Of Montana beat Miss Streisand by half a neck in her first heat. The $1.20 NZ-based ‘hot-pot’ drew nine and won in 2:39.9 with a slashing 1:54.9 mile rate. “We can only focus on what our filly can do and not what the others have done, but I do know how good Barry’s filly is. “My girl travelled and settled in very well. She will be a lot stronger this week because she has adjusted to the surroundings well. This is her first trip away and I’m very proud of her. She can win,” Rasmussen said. Smart As Camm Be has now won 11 of her 13 starts and banked $148,135. The Stanmore horsewomen also brought her stable star, Lilac Flash, to Melbourne as a travel companion last week. However, that black Bettor’s Delight gelding proved to be more than just a travel mate. The 5-year-old notched up his 19th win in 52 starts ($142,231) in a $20,000 M1 to M2 Pace on Saturday. The $3.30 second favourite drew nine and won with a blistering 1:51.6 mile rate for the 1,720m mobile. He has drawn four in the $24,000 Captain Sandy Free-For-All at 7.30pm on Saturday. But all the attention will come two races later at 8.30pm when Australia and New Zealand’s best fillies will do the business. Price, who owns the American Ideal filly, Betamerica, couldn’t believe her brown pacer was paying more than $150 to win the coveted Oaks. “I thought her run last week was a cracker and I can’t believe that she is one of the outsiders in the field. She will need luck on her side but I am very happy with Larajay Farms’ performance with her so far this season,” Woolloongabba-based Price said. Betamerica is trained by Jess Tubbs and will be driven by Greg Sugars. He will start from three on the second row this week after finishing a close-up head second in the third heat behind the $2.60 favourite, Kualoa. TAB’s opening odds for Saturday’s 2,240m mobile are: Belle Of Montana $1.30, Smart As Camm Be $6, Kualoa $7, Two Times Better $21, Miss Streisand $23, Enchanted Stride $23, Victoria Brew $34, Tangoingwithsierra $51, Wellsaidlucy $71, Vena May $81, Swimsuit Edition $126, Betamerica $151, Single Tree Road $151.   Duane Ranger for Racing Queensland

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