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By Jonny Turner    A team filled with quality, rather than quantity, has trainer Brett Gray in line for a good day out at Ascot Park today. Despite running one of the biggest stables in Southland, the Ryal Bush horseman has just three horses entered. And they all look strong chances. American Eyretime looks to be dropping back in company after running a strong second behind the classy Yankee Party in her last start. The runner-up effort continued a brilliant run of form consisting of consecutive top three placings. “She would be my best chance on Thursday,” Gray said. “She has been very consistent – she has turned in to quite a nice mare.” “When I first got her I thought she was just ok, but she has kept improving.” The 4yr-old’s blazing gate speed and having a noted front-running driver behind her in Sheree Tomlinson means tactics looks straight forward from barrier 7. “She has got good gate speed, so it looks pretty simple,” Gray said.  “I probably won’t have to tell Sheree what to do.” “But, in saying that she has got a wicked sprint if she is saved up.” “The last time she won she really had no right to win it, but she smoked home along the inside.” Jannah Jaccka looks another strong chance for Gray in race 2. The 4yr-old produced a strong second behind Funky Monkey in her last start at Ascot Park. “It was a good run last time and I have been happy with her since then,” Gray said. “With every start she has learned a bit more and she should be a good chance.” Today Jannah Jaccka faces another Phil Williamson trained favourite in the Artful Dodger. Major Meister has the toughest task ahead of him of Gray’s trio. The 4yr-old takes on the most even of fields in race 9. Major Meister bounced back to his best form when sprinting best from midfield to win at Ascot Park last week Gray rates the Major Meister a decent chance to do it again if he gets a tempo to suit. “He just needs the pace on and if he gets it he can finish over the top of him.” “He came to me for a bit of a change of scenery and he can be a funny horse, but he is not the worst.” While Major Meister steps up in company following his last start win, several of his main rivals are going in the opposite direction. Tom Martin fought hard for fourth behind Koenigsegg in a stronger race at Addington in his last start. Rocknroll King beat home some very smart types when running second behind See Ya Write at Ascot Park last week. The All Stars stable’s assault on today’s meeting adds much interest the nine race card. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will start four horses, with two in race 3 and two in race 4. Lena Rivers has finished fourth in a trial and third in two workouts ahead of her debut in race 3. She starts alongside Avana, who has run second in two trials and won a workout in three public appearances since lockdown. Aladdin and Rock Legend, who both start in race 4, both debuted in the same 2yr-old event at Addington last week won by Darling Me. Aladdin held third after leading throughout, holding out Rock Legend, who closed well after making a mid-race move.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Ryal Bush trotter Cuchulainn is currently in a purple patch of form. His win at Wyndham today for harness racing trainer Brett Gray and Butterworth Racing Syndicate was his second this season and backs up an impressive win last weekend on Cup Day at Ascot Park. “He started the season okay but I had a bit of a viral thing go through the stable and when he ran fourth (in record time to Super Fast Pat at Winton) I backed off him and got him treated. He’s looking a lot better and he’s a lot sharper,” said Gray. In today’s Caldwell Contracting Limited Handicap Trot driver Brent Barclay settled Cuchulainn third on the inside behind pacemaker Zoned Scarlett. The order remained the same until the 450 mark when Barclay seized the opportunity to get the drop on his main rival Dark Horse and moved the gelding off the running line. In the sharp burst of speed he was up challenging Zoned Scarlett for the lead at the top of the straight. He trotted nicely down to the line to beat Dark Horse by two and a quarter lengths running the 2400 metres in 3-04.3. “It worked out pretty good today. He’s a high speed horse.” Cuchulainn and Brent Barclay beating Dark Horse – Photo Bruce Stewart Dark Horse’s run was very encouraging. She gave 30 metres to Cuchulainn in the handicap and ran the distance in 3-02.4. Driver Nathan Williamson reported to a steward afterwards that she went rough in her gait when he pulled the earplugs halfway down the straight. Like most of the Butterworth Racing Syndicate horses Cuchulainn will probably end up in Australia where Merv and Meg Butterworth live, but Gray’s hoping he may stay in the province until at least the end of the month. “He’ll probably end up racing in Auckland or Australia in time but it’s up to Merv. Hopefully I can get to the Northland Southland meeting and the trot there ($30,000 EasiFeed Southern Lights).” Cuchulainn, which is named after a Celtic Warrior of medieval Ireland, was bred at Macca Lodge by Brent and Cane McIntyre and is by Skyvalley out of the three win Sundon mare Come Follow Me. Cuchulainn He continues the great run his sire Muscle Yankee stallion Skyvalley is having at the moment. War Admiral won at Addington on Friday night while super star trotter Tornado Valley won the $250,000 Group One Great Southern Star at Melton last night. War Admiral, Tornado Valley and Cuchulainn are all out of Sundon mares. Cuchulainn’s full brother Picketts Ridge also looks very promising, winning five races in a short career which has been hindered by injury. He looked ready to resume when running second to Dark Horse at a recent Wyndham Workout. Cuchulainn was originally raced by the McIntyres and trained by Brent, winning two races before the Butterworth Racing Syndicate bought the gelding. He was transferred to Gray’s stable shortly afterwards. Today’s win was his fourth from just eleven starts. Bruce Stewart

“She’s a lovely wee mare who seems to go good on the wet tracks,” said trainer Brett Gray after Born To Boogie won her fifth race at Gore today. The four year old was driven by the country’s leading junior John Morrison who was filling in for a suspended Brent Barclay. Morrison took the Rock N Roll Heaven mare to the front with 2000 metres to run before handing up to Santannas Rocket. Just before the top of the straight Morrison hooked Born To Boogie off the back of Santannas Rocket and she came down the middle of the track to beat him by a length and a quarter with Delightful Deal another length and a quarter back in third. Gray says Born To Boogie’s future may now be in the North Island. The Ryal Bush trainer is slowly getting back to full mobility after Full Noise kicked him in the leg after winning at Winton last Saturday. He says he hasn’t been able to drive fast work for most of the week but is now back in the cart. Full Noise, which ran third today behind Nottingham K Two, will have to wait until tomorrow’s Oamaru meeting before his place at the Harness Jewels is confirmed. Gray said he wasn’t too disappointed with the three year old’s performance today. “It was one of those races. In the past he hasn’t gone so well on the wet tracks. He just got a wee way back today and the wet track just takes the speed out of him.” It wasn’t the fairytale ending for Santanna Rocket’s Southland career. He’s heading to Australia on a 50/50 deal with Robert Morris. The Morris stable have had success with another Santanna Blue Chip gelding James Dean, winning three races with him since December. Meanwhile Robyns Playboy which had to be scratched from the race, is on a course of antibiotics after stablemate Hans Ideal kicked him after work during the week. Stable spokesperson Chris Wilson said it’s hoped that Robyns Playboy will take his place in the Harness Jewels in a fortnight. He said the stable hope to get another run into him before the Jewels after he broke at Winton last Saturday. That misdemeanour was caused by a cut to the mouth. Wilson says Robyns Playboy’s chances of making the Jewels will be known in the next few days. The stable gained some consolation when Swift Robyn won her maiden race and Hans Ideal ran second later in the programme.   Bruce Stewart

Prominent Australian owner Merv Butterworth was on the phone to trainer Brett Gray shortly after Born To Boogie had triumphed in the fourth and final heat of the Vet South Equine Southern Belle Speed Series on 'Wairio Mile Day' at Central Southland Raceway on Saturday. “He always rings, before and after a race, he sounded pretty happy and told me just to keep doing what I'm doing,” said Gray. Butterworth Bloodstock had paid $17,000 for Born to Boogie when offered by Brent McIntyre's Macca Lodge at the 2016 premier sale. When the filly by Rock N Roll Heaven and Niftey Franco had some issues during her early preparations, her new owner chose to offer her back to the vendor as a breeding prospect. McIntyre said he “just threw her in the paddock” but when she started looking alright, decided to start jogging her. After about three months, McIntyre said the three-year-old was running satisfactory times and showing no ill affects so he recommended to Butterworth she was worth trying again. Born To Boogie then joined up with Butterworth's southern trainer Brett Gray and has continued to impress. As a three-year-old, during Queens Birthday last year, the then filly made a great start to her career, winning on debut at Ascot Park and following up five days later with success in the last Nugget final of the season. After two more starts, she was given a long break and since resuming in January has never finished further back that fifth. Pressed forward from the six gate on Saturday, Born to Boogie made the lead at the 1100 and pressed on to win comfortably by two and a half lengths in 1:55.2. “She is high maintenance and went a bit sore last year but has the ability,” said Gray. Born To Boogie is a half sister to Glenferrie Hood, a son of Christian Cullen. A multiple group-race winner of 29 races in Australia, Glenferrie Hood ran third in the 2013 West Australia Derby. Nevermore, third dam of the pair, counted the 1993 Two-Year Old Fillies Sires Stakes final among her seven wins. Born To Boggie is now eligible for the $20,000 final which will be held at the Winton TC meeting on 13th April. Other winners of the heats in the Southern Belle Speed Series have been Just Dance (Wyndham), Sweet Mary (Winton) and Chitura (Northern Southland).   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

The lightly raced Born To Boogie surprised her trainer Brett Gray when she won the Arden Lodge Robin Dundee Crown at Ascot Park today(Saturday). “I wasn’t 100% happy with her coming into this race. I thought she was a bit sharper last week. I thought she had something coming on but it’s worked out okay so obviously I was panicking over nothing,” Gray said. After sitting parked early, cover arrived when Naiya Franco moved to sit outside leader Jody Direen. When Bridesdale Robyn shot round the field with 600 metres to run Barclay popped out of the one one and started to make his run. Born To Boogie took half the straight to get past Jody Direen and she held on to win by a length and a quarter from a late charging Rockabilly Blues. “She’s got a bit of speed and is good with one run. Rockabilly Blues was unlucky. It was our turn for a bit of luck today.” Born To Boogie (10) beating Rockabilly Blues (9)                - Photo Bruce Stewart. Born To Boogie was bred by Northern Southland Stud Macca Lodge and was sold for $17,000 at the 2016 Yearling Sales to Merv and Meg Butterworth. The Rock N Roll Heaven filly started her career with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, but sustained a leg injury. She was sent south to the Gray stable where she qualified and won her first two races. “She’s still a day to day proposition but we’re keeping her pretty sound.” Today’s win was her third and Gray said the Southern Belle Speed Series will probably feature in her future programme. Macca Lodge is offering a black Sweet Lou filly which is a half -sister to Born To Boogie at next month’s Christchurch National Yearling Sales. Meanwhile Annie Fitz caused a big upset in the SBS Bank Mobile Pace winning at odds of 29-1. Annie Fitz winning at Ascot Park - Photo Bruce Stewart She managed to avoid an early melee which wreaked the chances of some runners. Driver Craig Ferguson settled the Bettor’s Delight mare last of the seven runners that were left in the race. With 1400 metres to run he secured the one one. At the top of the straight Annie Fitz peeled out and came down the middle of the track to beat B Mac C by three quarters of a length. This was achieved despite getting a flat tyre at the 600 metres which finally separated from the rim after the finish line. It was the mare’s sixth win for breeder, owner and trainer Ross Wilson. Bruce Stewart

Robbie Royale was always going to be hard to beat at Ascot Park today. He ran a creditable seventh in strong company at Wyndham on Thursday and today's race was a massive drop in class. Trained by Brett Gray and driven by Brent Barclay he began safely and was allowed to settle into his gait for the first 100 metres. With 1600 metres to run Barclay moved the five year old forward and was forced three wide by Zoned Scarlett which also improved on his inside. Barclay allowed Zoned Scarlett to trot to the front before taking the top with 1200 metres to run. From there he held the lead beating her by three quarters of a length.   "He was good in front today. We thought we'd take everything else out of play by taking him to the front and let him roll," said Brent Barclay.  It was Robbie Royale's second win and the first for Brett Gray who took over his training last month from owner trainer Brian Norman. He's always shown he has the potential to progress further, but has broken in a number of his starts.  "He's a work in progress because he's still got a few rough strides in his gait but he feels like he'll win another couple of races alright. He's just very touchy in the mouth. When you grab him he's inclined to throw his head and that's when you lose him. You just have to go with him for the first three hundred metres until he balances up. We've got a softer bit in his mouth and he's getting better." His sire Raffaello Ambrosia left 50 foals in New Zealand with sixteen qualifiers or race winners. The best so far is Conon Bridge which has now won twenty one races and $264,367. He was good enough in 2015 as a two year old to win a Breeders Crown. Robbie Royale's fourth dam Castleton Queen is the mother of Sir Castleton, the winner of forty four races and of Castleton Pride which won eleven including the 1975 Interdominion Trotters Grand Final at Alexandra Park.  Sir Castleton won nine of his first twelve starts. He started an amazing four times in the Group One Rowe Cup finishing tenth in 1981, third in 1982, first in 1983 and second in 1984. He was trained for all bar three of his starts by Mawson MacPherson. Wayne Smart trained him for the lfinal three races and he won them all.  Meanwhile Star Reactor credited his sire Auckland Reactor with his sixty ninth individual winner; thirty seven in Australia and thirty two in New Zealand. Star Reactor - Photo File The Allan Beck trained mare trailed the leader and favourite Duke Of Dundee throughout the 2200 metres and she let down nicely up the passing lane to beat Duke Of Dundee by half a length with Don't Need An Excuse another two and a half lengths back in third. Auckland Reactor prodigy have now won $1.7 million between them.   Bruce Stewart

One of the shining lights of the Southern Harness scene, Mr Kiwi scored his second career win when he got up to beat a tenacious Honey Cullen by half a length at Winton today. The four year old gelding showed plenty of class at times in his three year old season but maturity and consistency just weren't there. “He won first up last season and he was so green. We had a wee few issues this season but he went super at Gore. He’s just been a bit more 'with us' this season. He’s got a big motor and he’s really matured,” said trainer Brett Gray. Gray says the American Ideal gelding has been a bit of ‘a trick’ at home but says he’s turned a corner this time round. “He was so lazy, then he’d get quite keen but this time in he’s been really good.” There have also been issues this week with a minor injury but the horse was good enough to overcome them today. “We got a stone bruise during the week so that was my only worry. We were under the pump but he still did it which was pretty cool.” Saluting the judge                                                  -  photo Bruce Stewart This was Mr Kiwi’s second win in five starts and Gray says he’s got a bright future. “I think he could go a wee way actually. He’s a bright hope. I’m not too sure what I’m going to do with him. We might give him a wee spell and have a go at the South of the Waitaki at Addington.” Out of the In The Pocket mare Wanaka Bay, Mr Kiwi was bred by Ben and Karen Calder who now reside in Wanaka. The Calders race the gelding with Gina Gray, Earl Shannon and Mrs J Bajnoczi-Shannon. “Ben and Karen have been great to me and my wife Ginny. Love winning races for them.” Mr Kiwi is a half brother the Mr Mojito which won seven of it's ten starts in New Zealand and a further four races in Australia including the Group Two Garrard Horse and Hound Four Year Old Championship at Gloucester Park in December 2016.   Bruce Stewart

Harness racing sire Changeover produced back to back winners at Gore today(Sunday) when Edie Jaccka and Jacks N Jazz won their respective races. Edie Jackka, which is raced by her breeder Charlie Smaill, had six starts as a three year old last season but trainer Brett Gray said she was always going to improve with age. “She went near enough but was just a little bit weak. We had a few starts and then Charlie chucked her in the paddock. I didn’t realise that Nathan’s one was scratched (Delightful Deal was late scratched in the race because of a foot abcess). It would have been the one to beat so I thought that was pretty cool. It made life easier. She had to do a bit of work and left no excuses for anything else. She’s actually been working super at home,” said Gray. After sitting back early driver Brent Barclay took the four year old mare to the lead with just over a lap to run and she won by a length and a quarter from Heavens Art. Edie Jaccka and Brent Barclay winning at Gore - Photo Bruce Stewart One race later another horse sired by Changeover, Jacks N Jazz won his R47-R49 mobile pace.   Out of the Union Guy mare Surfing Franco, he was bought for $6,000 at the yearling sales by co-trainer Jude Knight. “He was one of the last lots and she felt a bit sorry for him. He was a big dumb bugger, always going to take a bit of time and last year was a good year for him. We kept him on the unruly because he was a bit panicky last season. But by the end of the season we were confident that this year would be a better one for him,” said Geoff Knight, who co-trains the five year old. Craig Ferguson has a firm grip on Jacks N Jazz with a lap to run - Photo Bruce Stewart Jacks n Jazz is named after Geoff’s daughter Jazmin and grandson Jackson. Jasmine’s husband Tony Crofts has a quarter share in the horse, Jude owns a quarter, while the other half share is leased to the Have Fun Syndicate. Driver Craig Ferguson took Jacks N Jazz straight to the lead from barrier three and withstood a number of challenges throughout the 2200 metre journey holding on to beat Triple VC by a head.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing    

On what was a run-of-the-mill raceday at Ascot Park today a two year old trotter emerged as being a horse to watch in the future. Majestic Son gelding Full Noise handled the pressures of his first start against more experienced runners like a pro, and easily beat eleven other runners in the Hamil Saddlery Trot over 2700 metres. Full Noise began slowly but well and settled in sixth place early. With 1600 metres to run driver Brent Barclay moved him off the running line to sit parked for the last lap.  "He never batted an eyelid out there. He's so laid back when he's parked so it worked out really good. I'd say he's got a very bright future," said Barclay.  As the leaders turned for home Full Noise was asked to go and he trotted nicely down to the winning post to beat Superfast Ninja by three quarters of a length.  "He's a lovely horse and a beautiful trotter. I've driven him in every workout and trial and he's just a natural." His time of 3-35.2 was a new track record for two year old trotters who rarely run this distance.  Full Noise winning on debut in those famous Baynes colours - Photo Bruce Stewart. Trainer Brett Gray was also suitably impressed but he's known what's under the horses bonnet for a while.  "Kirstin (Barclay) broke him in. I did a few weeks with him before Christmas and loved him. I turned him out and brought him back in. He's just a natural. The second row draw today worried me a bit but Brent drove him a treat and the horse would have learned a lot today. He hasn't raced in a big field," he said.  After the win Gray wouldn't be drawn as to what the plans are for the two year old. "I've just got to talk to the owners. I think he's a horse for the future and I really want to look after him." The Majestic Son gelding which is owned by Kenny Baynes and his sister in-law Penny, is out of the Sundon mare Knapdale Girl which won three races in New Zealand and a further five in Australia. Knapdale Girl is from a family the late Colin Baynes developed and raced over many years. It's the family that's produced quality trotters like Cool Cat which won ten races and Bearcat which won seven. Winning connections                           - Photo Bruce Stewart.  Full Noise is the first foal from Knapdale Girl. She has a yearling colt by Coktail Jet stallion The Best Madrik and a weanling filly by Pegasus Spur.   Another branch of the family produced many good trotters for Maurice Skinner including Adiantum which won eight races and Maori Maiden the winner of seven.  Full Noise is named after a Yak-3 V12 World War Two fighter owned by Graeme Frew, an Air New Zealand pilot. Frew qualified for the National Championship Air Races in Reno in America where he broke a race record last year. He also recently bought the plane down to Wanaka for the Warbirds Over Wanaka. And in true pioneering spirit the plane carries the same number (35) as Southlander Burt Munro's Indian Motorcycle which also raced in America. "We were actually in Reno last year when he was there. They put the plane in a container and took it over there. A local guy Jay McIntyre who is a renowned engineer who lives in Blenheim now, went over with him and put the plane back together. They did a fantastic job over there," said Penny.  The win by Full Noise brings the number of wins for Kenny Baynes this season to 17. War Machine (5), War Admiral (3), Especial, Convair Hustler(1) Too Cool (1) Royal Bengal (3), Full Noise (1) Envious (1) and Especial (2).  Full Noise, Royal Bengal and Convair Hustler are raced by Baynes Racing Limited (Kenny and Penny) while the other horses are raced by Kenny and his wife Jo.    Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray doesn't want to look too far ahead but by the way his trotter Smokey Mac in going he may have to. The four year old Thanksgiving gelding - after his win today (Saturday) at the Wairio meeting, leads the Four Year Old Trotting Ruby for the end of season Harness Jewels.  "Yeah he's heading the table now. It's a long time between now and then but we'll definitely have a go if he's going good. He's the type of horse that'll get around that track (Cambridge). You still have to cop a draw up there but fortune favours the brave," said Gray. In today's Western Electrical 2008 Limited Mobile Trot, Smokey Mac led early before handing up to stablemate Jen Jaccka. Just before straightening driver Brent Barclay pulled Smokey Mac out from the trailing position and he let down nicely to beat Jen Jaccka by half a length with War Machine a nose back in third.  Smokey Mac (4) winning the main trot of the day for Brent Barclay - Photo Bruce Stewart. "I'm rapt with both of them and happy with the way Jen's (Jen Jaccka) going too. Smokey will go to Addington for the four and five year old championship and Jen will go up the following week," said Gray.  Gray says Smokey Mac's next target is the $30,000 Group Three Lamb and Haywood Four and Five Year Old Trotting Stakes at Addington on Easter Saturday.   "I'm going to go there next, then give him a wee freshen up and then concentrate on the Jewels maybe. But I'm a bugger to change my mind."   The win was his seventh from seventeen starts and all the way through he's been driven by stable driver Brent Barclay.  "Brent's done a big job with this horse by just improving his attitude. He's been the key to his success. I can't thank him enough. But he's got a long way to go yet. He's got a lot of natural ability but we just have to pipe it. He's been pretty lucky because Brent's been driving him without knocking him around. He's a horse that needs that too."  Bruce Stewart Southland Harness racing    

There's no doubt the Ryal Bush harness racing trainer Brett Gray will get a personal training best this season. The only question is whether he can hang onto his lead in the Southland Trainers Premiership. He geared up two feature race winners yesterday (Saturday) at the Invercargill Harness Racing Clubs meeting on the grass at Ascot Park. The well bred Convair Hustler was the first of his two winners in the $12,000 Invercargill Licensing Trust Nuggets Final. Driver Dexter Dunn sat parked with the Mach Three gelding for a good part of the 2050 metre race before getting cover from Duke of Wellington from the 800 metres. Duke of Wellington looked to have his rivals covered but Dunn drove Convair Hustler off his back on the inside to score by half a head. The time of 2-37.6 was the fastest of the day for 2050 metres. Convair Hustler (6) and Dexter Dunn winning from Duke Of Wellington (8)  - Photo Bruce Stewart. The win qualifies Convair Hustler for the $20,000 Super Nuggets Final at the Northern Southland Trotting Clubs meeting this Saturday but Gray is not sure whether he'll line up. "I don't know how he'll back up being so close. I'll see how he pulls up and have a talk to the owners. He did disappoint me over the mile the other day (when he backed up) but he's a Mach Three so a wee bit in and out," Gray said after the win. Convair Hustler, which is raced by the Baynes Racing Syndicate, is named after the Convair B-58 Hustler plane, the first operational jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight. I suspect he was named by John Baynes, a keen aviator whose wife Penny is one half of the Baynes Racing Syndicate with her brother in-law Kenny. None of the winning owners were on course today with Penny reported to be in Whitianga. Young Conqueror, also trained by Gray won the next race - the ILT Foundation Autumn Cup. Starting off the 10 metre handicap, the Mach Three four year old settled ninth for driver Brent Barclay. With 600 metres to run Young Conqueror was fourth last with plenty of work to do. He tracked Shortys Mate into the race then came home with the good stayers run to beat Shortys Mate by a neck with another length back to Pass The Speights. It was the geldings fifth win in only nineteen starts and qualifies him for the bMac Sheetmetal 2005 Limited Southland Country Cups Final to be held on Diamonds Day at the end of April. Other leading candidates for the series final are; Gotta Del, Royal Bengal, Shortys Mate, The Big Boss, Bevan's Cullen and Deliska.  The two wins yesterday put Gray on twenty five wins for the season - six wins clear of his nearest rival Nathan Williamson. From a PB prospective for the last two seasons he's trained twenty six winners.  Gray's set to line up some of his big guns at this Saturday's Northern Southland meeting including Smokey Mac and Jen Jaccka who will race in the Group Three Pryde's Easifeeds Southern Lights. "Zealand Star will line up in the Super Nuggets Final. He went really good at the workouts on Friday. I'm really happy with him at the moment."  Other features on the card at the meeting are the $20,000 Haras des Trotteurs Southland Trotting Oaks, the $25,000 Group Three Caduceus Club of Southland/Alabar Two Year Old Fillies Mobile Pace and the Group Three Yaldhurst Hotel Northern Southland Trotting Cup worth $40,000. Meanwhile grass racing has helped turn the corner for the Hamish Hunter trained Tiziano. Up until the beginning of February her form had been average at best, but since grass track racing became an option for the four year old Big Jim mare she's regained form. Another grass track victory for Tiziano and Matty Williamson - Photo Bruce Stewart. A fourth at Gore indicated she had a liking for the surface. That was followed up by a win at Oamaru, a third at Waikouaiti at the end of last month and another win yesterday at Invercargill.    Bruce Stewart  Southland Harness

“He just needed time. At three he was quite weak. He’s got plenty of gas if you can save him for it. He’s finally clicked onto it,” said trainer Brett Gray after Zealand Star, at odds of 39-1, upset in the Employ a Master Plumber Mobile Pace. The four year old has struck a purple patch of form winning three of his last five starts. He was bought by the Butterworth Racing Syndicate out of Clark Barron’s stable after impressing at workouts.  He qualified for Gray at Wyndham a year ago, running second behind Honour Scroll but it took him nearly a year to win his first race at Roxburgh. “When we bought him off Clark he went pretty well at workouts. He was quite good at home but he couldn’t do an ounce of work. It just took him time to mature. Some of them just can’t run at three.” A grin from driver Craig Thornley says it all -  Photo Bruce Stewart. Interestingly enough Honour Scroll also won today. Both horses, at some point in their careers, have been owned by Bryleigh Stud’s Keith and Tracey Norman. They bred Zealand Star out of their Village Jasper mare Royal Spin and they own Honour Scroll which is trained by Keith’s brother Brian. Both are out of Bryleigh Studs' resident stallion Washington VC. Gray's other horse Young Conqueror ran second, storming home to get within three quarters of a length of his stablemate. “I was really happy with him. He got quite crock at Cup Week so I’m happy that he’s bouncing back. He’s come from last and just went super.” As with a lot of the Butterworth owned horses, Zealand Star will eventually race in Australia but Gray says he needs to talk to Merv Butterworth about a $20,000 race the four year old is now eligible for at the Northern Southland Trotting Club meeting in the middle of March. “He's better off staying here with the Nuggets Super Final coming up.” Bruce Stewart Southland Harness racing  

Brett Gray has had Gotta Go Cullett gelding Son Of Brahma for fifteen months. He was bought by the Butterworth Racing Syndicate in November 2015 after he was spotted at trials as a two year old. Gray qualified him as a three year old and after winning two races back to back in January 2016 his form dropped away. "He's been going a bit better this year but just needs to get the right run. He just needs to get that one crack at them. He can't do an ounce of work in the running," he said. Son Of Brahma was bred by the late Colin Baynes and is out of the two win Village Jasper mare Brahma Girl who has also left four win gelding Royal Bengal.  In today's R40-R49 mobile pace, driver Blair Orange settled the gelding well off the pace. With a lap to run he was third last. At the 500 metres he progressed Son Of Brahma three wide as part of the improving back runners. When the field straightened the gelding let down nicely to beat Nighmarch by two lengths. He's now won three races in his twenty five starts and has also picked up a number of placings. It was one of three wins on the card for New Zealand's leading reinsman Blair Orange. His other wins were Majestic Lavros for Mark Jones and Ideal Breeze for Des Baynes. Heading back to the birdcage - Photo Bruce Stewart  Orange remains locked in battle with Dexter Dunn for the drivers premiership. Dunn drove five winners at the NZ Met meeting on Friday night and three at Geraldine yesterday. Orange still leads the premiership with 114 winners with Dunn sitting on 94.  Meanwhile Brent Barclay and Nathan Williamson are locked in their own battle for the Southland Drivers Premiership. Barclay who last won the premiership in 2008 has a four win buffer over Williamson. Barclay won two races at Wyndham today driving Maidonthebeach and Duke Of Wellington. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

Quality trotter Smokey Mac took the next step when he dealt to a very good field of R66 and faster trotters at Ascot Park today (Saturday). He's been the trotting find of the Southland season so far and continues to impress his Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray. “I actually think he’s turned a corner. At Roxburgh he blew a bit and he just wasn’t right. He had a cut on his leg. I thought we’d just take him home and take him to the workouts. But we kept him at home to keep him settled. In the past ten days he’s gone forward and stopped blowing.” The plan worked and after leading, then handing up to War Machine, he came up the passing lane for driver Brent Barclay to beat Alderbeck and War Machine. “He’s better from behind. He won a nice race at Winton coming from last. He’s got speed and he’s one of those horses you’ve got to go with. It was just another genuious Brent drive.” The four year old gelding, which is owned by John and Pam MacLeod of Winton, is still a work in progress says Gray. "He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve but they’re getting less.” Smokey Mac is named after John MacLeod whose nickname is Smokey. "Pam never told me about the name until it came through," said John. Smokey Mac is out of the Armbro Invasion mare Uncatchable and her pedigree goes back to a breed that Doug McCormick has had plenty of success with.  "We bought the mare with a foal at foot online in a standardbred auction. She was with Ross Hope. She had The Badger at foot. We put her in foal to Thanksgiving again and got Smokey Mac." The MacLeods are enjoying the success Smokey Mac is having. Today's win was his fourth this season from just seven starts. "It's absolutely amazing." Winning connections and sponsors. Pam and John MacLeod far right - Photo Bruce Stewart Gray says he hasn't looked too far ahead in setting out a programme for the four year old.  “We’re just going to have to place him, be wary and pick good races for him. He’s not a week in week out racehorse," he said.  Earlier in the day Gray also won with the Charlie and Ailsa Smaill owned Elva Jaccka, taking out the 2700 metre stand event by four and a half lengths. Elva Jaccka cruising down to the line for Brent Barclay - Photo Bruce Stewart.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing Smokey Mac winning at Ascot Park

Oreti Beach trainer Paul 'Tank' Ellis has put the disappointment of Shezacullegirl's poor run at Alexandra Park on Friday behind him and the win at Ascot Park today by Machjagger certainly helped. "It's taken ages to get her looking good again. She's looking good now and has gone good," said Ellis after the Justa Tiger mare won narrowly. Ellis has had the mare at his stable for a while now, having transferred out to the beach while still under Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray's name. The mare has officially raced under Ellis's name twice, and he's been able to try different training methods with her.  "This week Hilly (stable foreman Paul Hillis) has been riding her. Dexter (Dunn) was happy with her last week. He said that she just got outsprinted. This week he drove her more aggressively and he wasn't going to get outsprinted. She gets down on her bumpers but when she's looking good and she's all muscled up over her behind she doesn't get down on them." Machjagger (15) beating Wayward Roc (1) by a half a head - Photo Bruce Stewart. Machjagger has now won four races including on the grass at Waikouaiti. The Wyndham Meeting at Cromwell early in the New Year is one of her targets.  "She's got a real good group of owners. There'll be a few drinks over Christmas hopefully for them. The boys have got a crib up in Cromwell so that's where she'll be."  Meanwhile Ellis's quality mare Shezacullengirl which finished last in the Northern Breeders Stakes in Auckland on Friday night is coming home. "She chaffed up real bad on one side. She never chaffs up. It was caused by going that way round. She's in a real happy spot down here so I'll bring her back. Mango (driver Brent Mangos) said she just didn't feel right the whole way. We'll get her back. There are plenty of races after Christmas for her." Bruce Stewart Southland Harness racing   Machjagger winning yesterday.  

Well Said colt Nota Bene Denario showed his versatility when he won at Ascot Park today (Saturday). The three year old, which had led all the way at Wyndham on November 19th, came off a nice early sit before driver Brent Barclay took him round to the front with a lap to run. "I think he can race from pretty much anywhere. They backed off the pace so I thought because they were going that slow that I'd better get around them. I think he probably knocks off a bit in front," said Barclay. Nota Bene Denario stayed down in the south at Brett Gray'sstable after his win at Wyndham and went to the Winton Workouts last Friday where he was driven from behind. He won his heat impressively running his last 800 metres in better that 54 seconds.  "He's a very very fast horse if you saw his run at the Winton Workouts. He's got wheels," said Gray. Flying - Nota Bene Denario and Brent Barclay        - Photo Bruce Stewart. The colt, which was bought by Robert and Sharyn Symon and placed in Terry and Glenys Chmiel's stable, has now won two of his three starts and Gray presumes he will return home to the Chmiel's Leeston stable.  Meanwhile junior driver Ellie Barron knocked off another of her early season targets when she won on her grandfather's horse Mass Invasion today. She had her first win on Somejoy, part-owned and trained by her father Clark, and this is another win for the family. Ellie Barron and Mass Invasion                           - Photo Bruce Stewart. The seven year old Muscle Mass mare owned by Owen Crooks ran down pacemaker Grace O'Malley. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness racing

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