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By Matt Markham You won't find too many trainers using a $30,000 Group Three feature as a yardstick to get a line on exactly where their horse is at but that's the situation Nigel McGrath has found himself in heading into tomorrow's Methven Cup. McGrath, who is never shy of a having a good horse or two in his barn, thinks he might potentially have a very good in one in up and coming pacer, Gran Chico - but the only way to know if you're actually going to be capable beating in the best is to find out against the best. So that's what he's doing. Having just his 13th race day appearance, Gran Chico will tomorrow take a step into the abyss tomorrow when he tackles the Methven feature up against Group One winners including defending New Zealand Trotting Cup champion, Thefixer. "We're going to find out pretty quickly," McGrath said yesterday. "I think I know how good he is, but until you get into those types of races up against those really good horses you just don't know. "I've gone into races before thinking I'm unbeatable and gone home with my tail between my legs. A winner fresh up in stunning fashion last week at Addington, Gran Chico - to be fair, has always looked above average and his run for second behind Jesse Duke on Harness Jewels day earlier this year was one of the performances of the season. But Methven is a whole new ball game. It's a grass track, it's a stand start and it's a new challenge. "I'm not worried about to be honest, we took him out to Motukarara today (Friday) and gave him a bowl around behind a galloping pacemaker and he was perfect. "He's a pretty sensible sort of horse, just a big lump of a dude, but the stand shouldn't worry him too much." The cause is helped significantly by the fact that Blair Orange will be doing the steering. New Zealand's leading reinsman, Orange is driving as good as ever currently and gives all his drives an extra edge when they step onto the track. Safely through tomorrow's assignment, McGrath is plotting a path to the second Tuesday in November and the New Zealand Trotting Cup. But there's a bit of water to go under the bridge still if he is to take his part. "I'm going to leave him in the mix, we'll go this weekend and then he can most likely head to Ashburton for the Flying Stakes. "As long as he doesn't get left behind there (Ashburton) then we'll press forward to the Cup I think. If things don't go well then we might look at turning the attention to next year, but I'm reasonably confident he'll be competitive." While Gran Chico offers up the unknown quantity of the Methven Cup field for tomorrow, there's some pretty well-knowns set to take their place too. Thefixer is joined by stable mates, Chase Auckland and Ashley Locaz giving the All Stars stable a really strong chance of winning their seventh edition of the race in the past 10 years. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

As a dam, she’s already considered as being highly successful, but the real calling for Rob The Nest may just come as a grand-dam if this year’s Four-Year-Old Ruby at next week’s Harness Jewels is anything to go by. The dam of super trotters, Sonofthedon and Thedonson, will have three of her descendants contesting the $100,000 4YO Ruby at next weekend’s Harness Jewels meeting in Ashburton. Eagle Galleon, Wilma’s Mate and Ruby leader, Temporale will all line up on June 3 and will do so as cousins with all three coming from half-sisters who all hail from Rob The Nest. Former Harness Racing New Zealand chairman, Gary Allen, who bred Wilma’s Mate’s dam, Mybrotherwasastar and Eagle Galleon’s dam, Galleon’s Assault and also raced Rob The Nest was particularly proud of the achievement. “For three half-sisters to all have a runner in the Jewels is quite an effort,” Allen said. “It’s been a wonderful family for a long time.” Neil Munro, who raced Rob The Nest with Allen, bred Whosinthenest who is the dam of Rowe Cup winner Temporale. For Allen, Jewels Day and the 4YO Ruby will bring dual roles. For the first time he will be able to enjoy the day as a racing enthusiast away from the shackles of being a required for a dignitary role as part of the HRNZ board. There as a breeder, Allen is also in as an owner with Eagle Galleon. The Robert Wilson trained four-year-old began the season as a maiden but will find himself next week taking on horses who have won multiple Group One races in their careers. “It’s very exciting to have him there,” Allen said. “In the last month or so, he has very much matured as a racehorse, we never probably thought he would be a chance of making it to be honest. “But he’s got better each time he’s stepped out and it’s going to be very exciting to have him a part of the day.” Dexter Dunn has been booked to drive the horse but Allen was being very realistic about his chances. “I think it would be a pipedream to think that we could win it, but if he’s running on at the finish I will be over the moon.” Eagle Galleon is a $101 chance in the Ruby while cousins Temporale ($5.20) and Wilma’s Mate ($3.90) are much more favoured. By Matt Markham

The best driving talents in the New Zealand amateur driving ranks will take centre stage in Canterbury this weekend as part of the 2017 New Zealand Amateur Driving Championships. The first of three heats to be held over the next three days opens proceedings tonight at Addington Raceway with 12 drivers competing for national glory before heading to Rangiora on Sunday for a further two heats. Six drivers each from the North and South Island will take part in the annual series with some hugely successful names filling the roster over the three races. The South Island line up of Mike Maynard, Richard Sissons, Adam White, Colleen Negus, Todd Woodward and Alan Edge have close to 100 amateur driving wins between them along with a number of open driving victories. Woodward leads that tally with more than 220 driving wins in his career. From the North Island; Warren Rich, Cheree and Sheryl Wigg, Danny Blakemore, Jeff Darby and Gerry Cronin will do the business. Early advantage for the series looks to sit with Sissons who has drawn Take After Me for North Canterbury trainer, Glen Scott, in the opening race of the championship. Meanwhile it will be a case of blowing out any final cobwebs for a number of horses at tonight’s Addington ahead of next weekend’s Harness Jewels. A number of horses going around at tonight’s meeting will be in action next weekend. There will be a lot of eyes on the talented Don Domingo who returns after being late scratched from last weekend’s Premier meeting. He hails from the in-form Ken and Tony Barron stable and will be looking for a good hit out ahead of the four-year-old Emerald in eight days time. With the one fire Blair Orange in the bike, the son of American Ideal has come a long way in his debut season, winning three races from his 10 starts. Life won’t be easy from a widish draw over the 1950 metres, especially with some strong opposition to contend with. Orange will have a good handle on some of his strongest opposition with two other runners hailing from the Barron brothers stable, Runaway Three and Amazon Lily. He has also been in the sulky to drive Malik to victory in his last three starts for Paul Court. The talented pacer will have Ricky May in the bike tonight as he looks to make it four wins in a row from the unruly drawn on the outside of the second line. Matt Markham’s Addington Selections Race 1: Take After Me, Franco Caliph, Eja Patron, Handlebar Hank Race 2: Hashtag, Bubble Gum, Nicky Anew, Debnita Rose Race 3: Regal Assassin, Idle Moose, Spots Gold N Girl, Elvis P Race 4: Rum In The Sun, Reign On Me, Native’s Lasting Love, Tehoro Dazzle Race 5: Moonrock, Superfecta, Usain Colt, Donegal Carrickfinn Race 6: Don Domingo, Celestial Arden, Bet On Rascal, Rocknroll Princess Race 7: Needle, BD Khaosan, Sundon’s Flyer, Donsmedad Race 8: Tupelo Mississippi, Midfrew Tarpediem, Vinny Gambini, Takitimu Express Race 9: Bright Diamond, Gentle Giant, Indiana Dreaming, Bettor Aim Race 10: Duplicated, Daylight Robbery, English Rose, Pirate Bay Best Bet: Duplicated (Race 10) Value: Bright Diamond (Race 9) By Matt Markham Harness Racing New Zealand

Harness racing down under’s biggest day is back for another installment and what a day we have in front of us. The 113th running of the Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup is, of course, the main event but there is a wonderful undercard on the 12 race programme to sink the teeth into as well. So many questions will be answered over the next few hours notwithstanding whether or not Lazarus will shoot himself into equine immortality by joining other illustrious four-year-olds to win our greatest race. But there’s also the debate who will reign supreme in the three-year-old feature - the NRM Sires’ Stakes Series Final. It’s the 33rd edition of this important Group One fixture and there’s nothing clear cut about it with chances aplenty. Also we see Monbet try to make it back-to-back New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All victories as he works toward Friday’s Group One Dominion Handicap. Our goal is to bring you all the news from around the stables, bookies updates, snaps from many key players through their social media accounts throughout the day. So make sure you keep checking back here throughout the day to keep up to date with all the happenings courtesy of Matt Markham and Duane Ranger. If you haven’t checked it out yet - make sure you read the Harnessed Cup Day Special - a 33 page printable liftout that details all the action ahead of us with news, views, opinions and selections.   Find the Cup Day special here: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------   10:40am: After a slightly cool start to the day, things are starting to heat up temperature wise here at Addington. That should be conducive to some fast times out there on the picture perfect racing surface that has been offered up by the Addington’s Track Manager, John Denton and his team. Expect to see more than a few sub 55 second last 800 metres - especially as the day rolls on. - Matt ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Twitter Update: Michael Guerin has shared his two main previews ahead of today that were in this morning’s NZ Herald. @GuerinSports - Why you should back two horses in NZ Cup today @Guerin Sports - Sires' Stakes sees one take on many @Guerin Sports - Simple Cup Day plan: Best: Monbet, Field Marshal-Dream About Me quin, Mr Mojito; EW: Star Galleria, Mighty Flying Major; Bolter, Lothario ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Bookies News:   The TAB Harness Bookies are running a live blog throughout the day detailing all the betting action as it happens. You can check it out here: we will bring live updates as they become available to us. - Matt   -----------------------------------------------------------------------   Stewards News:    Two big pieces of news from the stewards this morning.    The first regards Locharburn who goes around in Race 4 - the Junior Free-For-All. His trainer, Kevin Chapman has advised stewards that they aren't confident the horse can be driven as agressively as he has been in the past due to his heart issue. Don't expect not to see him driven with a sit, but there are no firm plans as of yet on how he will be driven today.    The second slice of news regards Sires' Stakes favourite More The Better. He became cast in his box last week. He has been checked over twice by the All Stars vet and at this stage is clear to start although the Stewards will order another veterinary check prior to him taking his place in the Group One feature. - Matt   --------------------------------------------------------------------- Bookies News:    Early Cup Day movers from the bookmakers.    R1 – Idle Monkey opened $16 into $9.  $500 @ $10. R2 – Boults On Fire opened $4.20 into $2.90.  $2,000 @ $3.20, $1,000 @ $2.90. R3 – Twelve Monkeys opened $6.60 into $5.20.  $2,000 @ $6.50. R4 – Field Marshal opened $3.80 into $3.10.  $2,000 @ $3.30, $1,000 @ $3.20. R5 – No significant moves R6 – Over $500,000 multi exposure through Monbet. R7 – Star Galleria opened $4.80 into $3.40.  $1,300 @ $4.80.  $1,000 @ $3.50 R8 – Over $500,000 multi exposure through Mr Mojito. R9 – Vincent opened $2.70 into $1.85.  $1,800 @ $2.60, $1,000 $2.20 (twice), $2,000 @ $2 R10 – Lazarus opened $4.50 (Futures) now $1.75.  Over $1.25m multi exposure through Lazarus. R11 – Everybody Knows opened $3.20 into $3.  $2,000 @ $3.20 R12 – Mighty Flying Major opened $5 into $4.  $1,000 @ $5 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------  From the TAB: Bookies have opened a market on how many races Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will win today. Odds are listed below.   Also open is an odds boost on Dream About Me in Race 4 they are offering $2.50 until 12:45pm with a maximum investment of $400 and no multis.  ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 11:50am: Less than 20 minutes out from the start of race one and the crowd is building very nicely. Plenty of word around in the first for Glass Half Full, a recent addition to the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen stable after being purchased by Trevor Casey and Graham Bruton - the latter of course of Lyell Creek fame. New Zealand's two leading trotting trainers Paul Nairn and Phil Williamson both have runners in the race. Paul has Lothario and Quevert while Phil is represented by Blazing Under Fire and all three are good each way chances in the opening race of the day. - Matt ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 12:30pm: Big push from Mark Purdon for Boults On Fire in Race 2 in a race where they have five runners engaged. It's hard to see the winner not coming from their stable with great chances like Riccardo, Augusta and Smiley Sophie also lining up to take them on. Tim Butt has a nice horse in the race in Letsgotothehop - a long way from being the finished product, but he has got a decent sort of motor hidden away in there. Could surprise them.  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bookies News: Ahead of Race 2 the money keeps rolling in for Boults On Fire.  TAB Racing ‏@TAB_Racing  1m1 minute ago In Race 2, Leg 1 of the Early Quaddie, Boults On Fire has been well backed including: $1,000 @ $3.60 $2,000 @ $3.20 $1,000 @ $2.90 #NZCup16 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Race 1: $20,000 Garrards Horse & Hound Handicap for the C2 and faster trotters. Winner: Lothario. Trainer: Paul Nairn Driver: David Butt. Owners: R J Paterson, Mrs L A Paterson, Birchbrook Breeding Ltd. Breeders: Gaby Maghzal, Julie Maghzal. Time: 4:04.5 - MR: 2:02.9 800m: 59.0 - 400m: 29.6. Margins: 1/2 Length, 3-1/2 lengths, 2-1/4 lengths. 2nd: Glass Half Full. 3rd: Little Mo. By Duane Ranger The injecting of Lothario's joints a couple of weeks ago by his master Canterbury trainer Paul Nairn has worked the oracle following the first race on New Zealand Cup Day. Driven by David Butt the 6-year-old free-wheeled in front and proved too strong for his 15 opponents in the $20,000 Garrards Horse & Hound Handicap for the C2 and faster trotters. "I was able to dictate all the terms with him today and he felt extra. He was happy bowling along in front. He was getting tired towards the end of the race but he's a wonder stayer. "The way he's developing he could line up in next year's Dominion," Butt said. Lothario was impressive beating the favourite Glass Half Full (Mark Purdon), who broke at the start, by half a length. Little Mo and Clint Ford were 3-1/2 lengths back in third. Butt said he Lothario was likely to start again on Friday in one of the supporting trotting races to the Group One Dominion Trot. "He felt real nice today and gave me the impression he can go on with it. He's a credit to Paul. he was spot on today," said Butt. Lothario has now won five of his 35 starts and just on $50,000 in stakes. It was his fifth win at Addington raceway and first from two starts over the extreme distance. Lothario is by Love You and is out of Ten To One, which makes him a full brother to the 16-win open class trotter Habibti, who starts in race six today. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 2: Hydroflow Cup Day Maiden Mobile Pace Winner: Smiley Sophie Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Matt Anderson Owners: J A Gibbs, Mrs A Gibbs, Mrs S L Tucker, Mrs J L Wilson, j s Glasgow, Mrs T F Glasgow. Breeders: R A Yarndley, Mrs J V Yarndley   Time: 2:23.1- MR: 1:56.6 800m: 59.1 - 400m: 29.0 Margins: Long Neck, 1 ¼ lengths, 2 lengths 2nd: Shineonyoucrazydiamond. 3rd: Riccardo By Matt Markham Matt Anderson is pleased he only had to wait 12 months to get his maiden Cup Day victory. The young horseman, who is making big strides early on in his career when close to grabbing that win last year when beaten a short margin on board Blackguard’s Corner but made up for it today when he guided Smiley Sophie to success for his employers, Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. “The boss just beat me last year so I was pretty keen to make up for it this time around,” Anderson said. “I thought before the race she might be a bit of a chance with the right run and it turned out to be right because it all worked out perfectly.” Anderson managed to lead early with the three-year-old filly and then chose the right horse to hand up to in Letsgotothehop who held the lead until the final bend. “When Blair (Blair Orange) came looking I thought he was a good horse to hand up to, but then almost straight after that I was starting to wonder if he was because a few of the others looked like they were going to have a look at him. “Luckily he stayed in front though and she travelled off the back really well. “It’s a big thrill to win on a day like this in these colours.” A half-sister to former Sires’ Stakes Final winner, Stunin Cullen, Smiley Sophie had form in behind the very talented Delightful Memphis so her $18 price tag, on reflection, seems well over the odds. Half-way down the straight the race looked likely to belong to Shineonyoucrazydiamond and Dexter Dunn who after getting a dream run hit the front but wasn’t able to hold on for victory. Stablemates of the winner; Riccardo, Augusta and Boults On Fire filled the next three spots.  ----------------------------------------------------------------------  1pm: Strong push for the Paul Nairn trained Waterloo Sunset here and it's almost a carbon copy of Lothario early on. He gets in perfectly after dropping back in grade and has been going some handy races in the best trotting fields. Looks a good each way chance. Strong hopes off the front include Hey Yo, Le Leivre's Gift, Twelve Monkeys and off marks further back Royal Shine and also Springbank Eden. An interesting contest. - Matt ------------------------------------------------------------------------------  Bookies Update: The money just keeps on rolling in for Lazarus. This through a wee while ago.  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------   Race 3: RNP Homes Ltd Handicap Trot Winner: Waterloo Sunset Trainer: Paul Nairn Driver: Bob Butt Owners: Red and White Synd. Rona McKay, Clive McKay, P C Nain Ltd. Time: 3.17.5 - MR: 2.02 - 800m: 58.0 - 400m: 29.6 Margins: 1 ½ lengths, 3/4 length, 2 ½ lengths 2nd: Any Old Way 3rd: Jayceekay By Duane Ranger Two trotting races down on Cup Day 2016 and both have been won by the masterclass of squaregaiter conditioning – Paul Nairn. The Nairn trained Waterloo Sunset led most of the way to win today’s third event - the  $20,000  RNP Homes Handicap for the C4 to Oc trotters - 2600m stand. For good measure the Nairn trained Any Old Way  finished second giving the Leeston trainer the quinella. Jayceekay (Tony Herlihy MNZM) was third. David Butt drove Nairn’s first winner in race one (Lothario) and this time his son Bob did the driving. “He felt so good when he got to the front. He’s a bit of a head-case and you never know what Waterloo Sunset you are going to get. “Today we got the good one and on his day he’s a solid trotter. He’s a nice gaited horse,” Butt said. It was Waterloo Sunset’s first win since Show Day last year and he has now won seven of his 34 starts and third at Addington. “I was quite confident when I felt the way he was bowling along in front. He’s a nice horse who could still race against the best one day,” Butt said. “I personally thought he was the best horse in the field – and I drove him that way,” he added. -------------------------------------------------------------------------  Bookies Update: Where the weight of the money is going ahead of the Junior Free-For-All.  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1:30pm: Hard to see Dream About Me rolled in Race 4. Mark Purdon thinks she pretty close to the boys, and he means Lazarus, Have Faith In Me and Smolda - so she should really be winning this. Field Marshal might get the chance to sneak the victory here. He could be the early leader with Locharburn likely to go back at the start along with Dream About Me. He's a very serious horse and would be a contender in the Cup if he was to start. - Matt ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 4: Home And Family Group Three  $80,000 Granite Benchtop New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All Winner:  Dream About Me. Trainer:  Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Driver:  Mark Purdon. Owner:  C J Roberts, Est Mrs J L Roberts, P G Kenny, Mrs M L Kenny Breeders:  Charles Roberts. Time:  3:10.3. MR:  1:58.2. 800m:  54.8. 400m:  27 even. Margins:  Neck, head, half a length. 2nd:  Locharburn. 3rd:  Field Marshall. By Matt Markham The battle is set for Friday - The Queen taking on the potential King. And you get the impression from Mark Purdon that his newest superstar pacing mare, Dream About Me will have no issues handling a step up to the big time when she tackles the Group One New Zealand Free-For-All. “There’s nothing between her and our best male pacers,” Purdon said. “She’s got that real will to win, a little bit like Lazarus does I guess you could say. She just sticks her neck out when she needs too and really digs deep for you.” Purdon admitted to being a little nervous when he went back early from behind the gate and Field Marshal got such an easy time of it early on in the race. But when Locharburn moved in front of him and dragged the mare into the race the concerns subsided. “She just relaxed beautifully outside the leader and then dug when I asked her too. “They were two very good horses she ran past at the top of the straight.” Dream About Me’s win continued this incredible run for Charlie Roberts breed on Cup Day who have managed to pick up a victory without fail over the past few years. Locharburn was a brave second after doing the mid race work while Field Marshal was strong in third. All three will now head to Friday’s Free-For-All joining many of the contenders from this afternoon’s Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup.  ------------------------------------------------------------------  2:04pm: One of the trickier races of the day this one. Robert and John Dunn hold a strong hand with Dancing In The Dark and American Tart - both of whom were outstanding at the Cup Trials last week. One should lead and the other should get in the race during the middle stages. Potentially the chance for another big price winner here - expect a big run from Gupta's Cullen who has been a revelation since joining Jonny Cox's stable. - Matt ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Facebook Update: This from the Harness Racing New Zealand Facebook Page.  --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 5: Colgate Optic White Mobile Pace Winner: American Tart Trainer: Robert Dunn – Driver: Dexter Dunn Owners: R C Courtney, J D McAllister, P D McAllister Breeders: R C Courtney Time: 3.10.7 – MR: 1:58.0 – 800m: 59.0 – 400m: 29.6 Margins: 1 ½ lengths, 1 length, 6 ½ lengths 2nd: Real Torque – 3rd: Runaway Star By Matt Markham If he was surprised by the fresh up effort of American Tart, then John Dunn certainly wasn’t showing it. Fresh up since having issues back in March, the daughter of American Ideal made up for lost time with a rugged, yet oddly appealing, fresh up victory on the biggest of stages. Off the back of some strong trial form the dour mare made a massive mid-race move to find the lead at the winning post with a lap left to run and never looked back  - grinding her rivals into submission. “She’s pretty brave, she just keeps going,” Dunn said. “I knew she would run a big race, she’s a pretty good horse. I got going probably too early considering the speed they were running, but once we had committed we had to keep going.” A winner now of four of his six career starts, American Tart is a horse going places – although Dunn isn’t too keen to head to take on the best of her sex at this early stage. “The four-year-old mare division is pretty strong this season and I don’t think we need to chuck her in the deep end just yet. “Provided she pulls up well, we will look to back her up on Friday and see what happens and then make some plans from there.” The victory continued this great run of form for Dunn and his father Robert as they continue to make their dual stable set up work with stables in Auckland and at Woodend Beach. Real Torque looked desperately unlucky after being held up on the last bend , finding the line strongly. Runaway Star, who followed American Tart around was a brave third after doing her fair share of work.   ---------------------------------------------------------------- 2:40pm: Interesting wee race the Trotting FFA - Sheemon and Habibti both have good gate speed - Marcoola is more likely to roll across them than blow them off the track early. After that though, it seems just a case of Monbet working into it at some point and being too good. So, sit back and watch a superstar go about his business. - Matt ---------------------------------------------------------------------  3:10pm: Another great edition of this Sires' Stakes Final is upon us. And what a race it should be. Star Galleria looks set to lead from his good draw but there will be pressure from More The Better, You Gotta Have Faith & Ultimate Machete from the All Stars team as well as potentially others. Bad draws seem to go out the window in this race so anything could happen. Look for fast-finishes from Tiger Thompson and Mongolian Storm as well as Jack's Legend. - Matt  ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Twitter Updates: Some reaction to the win of Monbet in the NZ Trotting FFA.  Michael Guerin ‏@GuerinSports  21s22 seconds ago Monbet: second line, parked, NZ record. Will end his career one of the all-time greats. Runner-up damn good too Brad Taylor ‏@brad_taylor29  13m13 minutes ago Don't mind watching trotters like that! Monbet huge winning there! #NZCupDay Jason Tan ‏@JSLTan  14m14 minutes ago Monbet over Marcoola, what a trotting race that was @AddingtonNZ! Fantastic finish. #NZCupDay The Trots ‏@HRVnews  15m15 minutes ago Monbet brave winner, Kyvalley Blur runs a drum for 3rd in NZ Trot Group 1. Great drive/training performance by our adopted Kiwis #Trots Mark Jenner ‏@trotbuff   17m17 minutes ago You won't see a better race between two complete stars. Monbet grabs Marcoola right on the line and says I am still king Matt Markham ‏@MattMarkham07  15m15 minutes ago Only Ricky May. Could do what Ricky May just did. That's how you look after a horse but get the result ahead of a Gr.1 in 3 days. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 6: The Group One $80,000 Granite Benchtop New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. Winner:  Monbet. Trainer:  Greg and Nina Hope. Driver:  Ricky May. Owners:  G P Hope, Mrs N M Hope, M J Molloy. Breeders:  Greg and Nina Hope. Time:  2:21.7. MR:  1:56.9. 800m:  57.3. 400m:  28.9. Margins:  Half a head, 1-3/4 lengths, 2-1/2 lengths. 2nd:  Marcoola. 3rd:  Kyvalley Blur. By Duane Ranger Relief. That’s how driver Ricky May described Monbet’s 22nd  win in 33 starts in today’s Group One $80,000 Granite Benchtop New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. The Greg and Nina Hope trained 5-year-old not only got the measure of second favourite Marcoola (Clint Ford) by half a head, but he also smashed Stig’s 2009 New Zealand record by exactly one second. The son of Love You stopped the clock in 2:21.7 (mile rate 1:56.9) with final 800m and 400m sprints of 57.3 and 28.9. It was also May’s fourth win in the race. “I drove him a bit precious today and I almost blew it because of that. I was real anxious the last 20 metres but then his class prevailed. He’s an exceptional trotter – the best I have sat behind,” May said. Marcoola set a solid clip in front and May was delighted with the way Monbet kept giving. “We worked for 1000m and were wide and then he still had some left. I ducked in behind the pace-maker at the top of the straight to give him a bit of a breather. “There’s a big race we have to worry about  on Friday,” May said. Monbet’s 10th  win on the track took his stake earnings to over $600,000. “He could have won easier than that. I almost cost him,” a modest May said. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- RACE 7: NRM SIRES STAKES SERIES 33 FINAL Winner: Ultimate Machete Trainers: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen – Driver: Natalie Rasmussen Owners: Mrs G & P Kennard, K Riseley, G Douglas, Mrs M & P Creighton Breeders: K G Walsh, G P Walsh Time: 2:16.5 (NZ Record) – MR: 1.52.7 – 800M: 55.9 – 400M: 28.4 Margins: 1 length, 3 ½ lengths, 4 1.2 lengths 2nd: More The Better, 3rd: Jack’s Legend By Matt Markham Natalie Rasmussen might be in line for the understatement of the year after her post race comment regarding Ultimate Machete. In her usually understated manner, the brilliant horsewoman, summed up the all-comers national record breaking performance with three perfect words. “He’s pretty tough.” The thing is, tough doesn’t get close to what Ultimate Machete achieved. Three wide for the first third of the race, then parked he served it up to Star Galleria from the 1000 metre mark before running away at the top of the straight. With a class animal like More The Better sitting on his back, many could have expected last season’s two-year-old of the year to come out and run straight past his stablemate, but there was none of that with Ultimate Machete finding all the way to the line. “We always knew he would come back a really good horse as a three-year-old,” Rasmussen said. “The Derbies look ideal for him really.” The race wasn’t without drama though. Mongolian Storm was late scratched after he lashed out with both back legs and got himself tangled in his sulky and then there was plenty of galloping and side-stepping throughout the 1950 metre event. The win gave All Stars their third successive victory in the race following Lazarus and Have Faith In Me but also gave Phil and Glenys Kennard and Kevin Riseley back-to-back wins in the race. They are joined in the ownership of the Bettor’s Delight colt by Gavin Douglas and Phil and Margaret Creighton.  ------------------------------------------------------- 4pm: Potential superstar in line in the next in Mr Mojito. He's headed to Perth for the Golden Nugget and even with a second line draw he should be too good here. His stablemate Superfecta looks a great place option. Walkinshaw might sneak under the guard, he was supposed to go close at Kaikoura before he missed away. Hard to go past the 13 though. - Matt  ---------------------------------------------------------- Race 8: The $20,000 Pascoes The Jewellers Mobile. Winner:  Mr Mojito. Trainer:  Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Driver:  Natalie Rasmussen. Owners:  Butterworth racing Syndicate. Breeders:  B L Calder, Mrs K E Calder. Time:  3:06.3. MR:  1:55.3. 800m:  55.2. 400m:  28.4. Margins:  1-1/2 lengths, 3-1/2 lengths, 2-1/2 lengths. 2nd:  Captain Dolmio. 3rd:  Ears Burning. By Duane Ranger Natalie Rasmussen smashed her second New Zealand record with in the space of 45 minutes following today’s eighth race - the $20,000 Pascoes The Jewellers Mobile for C3 to C4 Pacers. This time she was behind the $1.20 hot favourite Mr Mojito who paced the 2600m mobile in  3:06.3. This was was 0.2 second quicker than Locharburn and Christen Me’s previous national record. “He’s a lovely horse who just keeps getting better and better. He had to be good today because he was made to work,” Rasmussen said. Mr Mojito went and sat outside the pace-making Captain Dolmio (Nathan Williamson) at the 1,000m and the latter never relented until late in the race. “That was a real dog fight. We really had to work hard to get past him. This was easily his best race yet. He felt super today,” said Rasmussen who trains the 4-year-old with Mark Purdon at Rolleston. The son of Real Desire and Wanaka Bay has now won seven of his nine starts and just on $50,000. That was his fifth win from six starts at Addington. ------------------------------------------------------- 4:30pm: Big push for Vincent here after he opened at $2.60 in the first markets. In to $1.80 now and expected to just win. Not 100 per cent certain he's a good thing. This is a really good field. Bailey's Rock is a good each way chance and I got a really good feel from Brendon Hill about his runner, Cruzy Dude. - Matt ----------------------------------------------------- Race 9: The Avon City Ford Mobile Pace Winner: The Fixer Trainers: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen – Driver: Natalie Rasmussen Owners: Mrs G & P Kennard, Mrs P Gillan, R J Fleetwood, R J Magness Breeders: J Green, B Hughes, Mrs P Hughes Time: 2:19.5 – MR: 1:55.1 – 800m: 56.1 – 400m: 28.7 Margins: Neck, 6 lengths, 1 ¼ lengths. By Matt Markham The inkling came for Natalie Rasmussen, in their final hit out ahead of Cup Day, that The Fixer might be able to beat Vincent and 72 hours later, it proved to be correct. Continuing her domination of the driving ranks throughout the day, Rasmussen again pulled all the right reins with the lightly raced three-year-old to get up the passing lane and surpass her high-classed stablemate. “On his work late last week and into the weekend I thought he was closing the gap,” she said. “He was working as good, if not a little bit better then Vincent, so while I’m surprised at the result, I guess I’m not really if that makes sense.” The win took the All Stars haul for the day to five with a further two possible victories in the final three races. A winner now of two of his three starters, The Fixer was on the ballot for the Sires’ Stakes Final but didn’t make the field. “He’s probably just a little bit below the big gun three-year-olds, but he’s going to be a pretty nice horse in time I think.” Rasmussen extended her haul for the day to three with the victory – a far cry from last year when she went winless with Purdon exclaiming that she might be paying him back as he walked off the track with Vincent. The favourite was far from disgraced in second after working hard in the middle stages while The Governor boomed home for young trainer Tom Bagrie to finish in third position. --------------------------------------------------------- 5:05pm: Here we are, the big dance is finally upon us. After months of speculation and talking and writing it all goes out the window in the next few minutes as we enjoy one of the greatest spectacles in NZ sport. Sit back, enjoy it and hopefully you back the winner. Smolda still for me, Lazarus and Have Faith In Me are logicals. Look for a big run from Christen Me.  ----------------------------------------------------------- Twitter reacts to Lazarus:  Michael Guerin ‏@GuerinSports  3m3 minutes ago I have watched harness racing almost every day for the last 30 years and have never seen anything like that. Thanks, Lazarus Mark Jenner ‏@trotbuff   17m17 minutes ago I will state right now, we will talk about this race for the next 20 years. Might be the best ever #lazarus Jason Bonnington ‏@JasonBonnington  18m18 minutes ago You are not supposed to win New Zealand Cups like that #lazarus #freak #rockstar #king Dave Cannan ‏@thewashodt  5m5 minutes ago Lazarus, 10 length winner of NZ Cup in 3:53.7. That's worth coming out of Twitter retirement for!! Never thought I would ever see that Scott Hill ‏@Hillbomber  15m15 minutes ago 4 year olds shouldn't be able to do that to quality older opposition #freak #lazarus #NZCup16 Chris Butt ‏@C_Butt_Racing  16m16 minutes ago Lazarus in glorious isolation Gareth Hall ‏@ghall27  16m16 minutes ago Emotional Mark Purdon says one of the greatest moments he's ever had in Harness Racing after that win with Lazarus in the New Zealand Cup ! Woodlands Stud NZ ‏@WoodlandsStudNZ  18m18 minutes ago Lazurus becomes Harness racing latest milionaire. Last three cup winners to Bettors Delight! #thegreatest NZ Harness Tips ‏@NZHarnessTips  21m21 minutes ago Never seen a horse win for fun in an NZ Cup like that before..Lazarus you beast Matt Markham ‏@MattMarkham07  22m22 minutes ago Wow. That's all I've got right how. #Lazarus -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5:47pm: Hard to come down from the high following that incredible performance. Just simply staggering. Like nothing I have ever seen before. A C1 trot will probably do that though. The toughest of the day. Beg Hall might be the best horse in the race, but Kingdom Come and Everybody Knows are strong chances too. My bias says Jean Sebastien each way all day. But as I said I am biased. - Matt --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 10: The Group One $750,000 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup. Winner:  Lazarus. Trainer:  Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Driver:  Mark Purdon. Owners:  Mrs G J Kennard, P I Kennard, T G Casey, K J Riseley. Breeders:  G Chin, Studholme Bloodstock Limited Time:  3:53.1. MR:  1:57.2. 800m:  55.3. 400m:  27.1. Margins:  10 lengths, 2-3/4 lengths, 1-3/4 lengths. 2nd:  Tiger Tara. 3rd:  Titan Banner. By Duane Ranger Wow! That’s the only way to describe today’s  Group One $750,000 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup. The favourite Lazarus not only dealt to his 14 opponents by a whopping 10 lengths but he also smashed  Adore Me’s  2014  New Zealand  Cup  and  race record by 1.5 seconds. Co-trainer and driver Mark Purdon had to work hard to get past pace-maker and stablemate Smolda with a lap-and-half to go, but once he got there it was virtually game over. They controlled the race from that point coming home in 55.3 and 27.1. The winning mile rate was 1:57.2. Purdon had a tear in the winner’s enclosure after the 3200m standing start staying test. “I just can’t believe what this horse has just done. This will go down as one of the greatest moment in my harness racing career. “I know I’ve won the big race before but never this easily. I was confident going into the race but you can never be too confident in a race like the Cup,” Purdon said. “He’s left me speechless,” he added. The 4-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight and Splendid Dream has now won 18 of his 21 starts and  almost $1.5m in stakes. That was his seventh win at Addington and first over the distance. “It’s unbelievable what has just happened. It’s going to take me a while for this to sink in. Horses just don’t do that,” Purdon said. Purdon has now won four New Zealand Cups. Two with Il Vicolo in 1995 and 1996 and Adore Me two years ago. 6:15pm: Last race charlie, the get out stakes, the final flourish - call it what you like but we've got here. Blair Orange gave a huge push to him when spoken to in our Cup liftout. He's drawn well and likes to race on the speed so will give you a great sight in the finale of Cup Day. Letspendanitetogetha might be the best each way chance in the race and who would write off the chances of Benicio as Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen shoot for seven for the day. - Matt -------------------------------------------------------- Race 11: The $20,000 Recruitment Network C1 Trot. Winner:  Everybody Knows. Trainer:  Greg and Nina Hope. Driver:  Ricky May. Owners:  D R Lauren, Dr P J Gerard, A R Pullar, Mrs B E Pullar. Breeders:  Dennis Lauren and Dr Pip Gerard. Time:  3:22.7. MR:  2:05.4. 800m:  59.9. 400m:  36.4. Margins:  4-3/4 lengths, 1-1/4 lengths, ½ a neck. 2nd:  Young Stranger. 3rd:  Kingdom Come. By Duane Ranger Greg and Nina Hope reaffirmed themselves as two of the best trotters in the land when Everybody Knows cleared out to win race 11. The 5-year-old Quite Easy gelding was slow away and then worked a heap to go around to sit outside the leader. Then in the lane he simply left his opposition to it winning the$20,000 Recruitment Network C1 Trot - 2600 stand  as he liked. “This was a very good run because he did a lot of work in this race and yet had plenty left at the end. He was right on his game today. He’s even stronger this time in,” said driver Ricky May. Everybody Knows stopped the clock in 3:22.7 (mile rate 2:05.4) with final 800m and 400m sprints of 59.9 and 30.4. That was his fifth win in 33 starts and third at Addington Raceway. It was also his second run back this campaign after winning first up after a five month spell at Addington on October 21. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Race 12: Blue Star Taxis Mobile Pace Winner: Mighty Flying Major Trainers: Ken & Tony Barron – Driver: Blair Orange Owners: S R Thompson, G E Dickey Breeders: Mrs H & L Williams Time: 2:20.9 – MR: 1:56.3 – 800M: 57.2 – 400M: 28.2 Margins: 1 length, ¾ length, 1 length By Matt Markham We are probably not going to ever see the best of Mighty Flying Major – but what’s on offer is still pretty good. The well-bred gelding, who was good enough to run a huge fourth in a Sires’ Stakes final a few years back, made light work of the last race of the day with a dominant front running display in front of the guiding of Blair Orange. Leg issues have plagued the talented pacer and put him on the side line for an extended period of time. “It’s a shame he’s got the issues he’s got because he’s pretty good,” Orange said. “That was pretty easy for him today, he did what he needed to and did it pretty well.” Out of the good producing mare, Fleet’s Pocket, Mighty Flying Major worked to the lead inside the mile and never looked back – running from the back straight and holding off all challenges. It was the first big winner for the newly formed partnership of brothers, Ken and Tony Barron. “I’ve always had a bit of success here on this day,” Tony said. “But it’s nice to get one here as part of the new partnership, and this guy is a pretty nice horse.” Orange said how the gelding pulled up would determine whether or not he would line up again on Friday. Major Rocket, who settled three back the fence ran home strongly for second while Torrid Bromac who set the early pace was good  in third. -------------------------------------------------------------- 7pm: So that brings a close to Cup Day 2016. And what a day it has been. We saw something special in Lazarus winning the New Zealand Trotting Cup by a massive 10 lengths in a NZ record time of 3:53.7 - bettering the time set by his former stablemate, Adore Me. Ultimate Machete's smashing Sires' Stakes victory was something to behold. Monbet and Marcoola's length of the straight effort in the NZ Trotting FFA was special. We also saw a wee taste test for Friday's Free-For-All with Dream About Me, Locharburn and Field Marshal seperated by under a length in the Junior FFA - those three in addition to those who come through the Cup will make for a mouth-watering Group One clash on Friday. On behalf of Duane Ranger and myself, it's been a great pleasure to attend and cover another Cup Day. Only 12 months to go until we can do it all again!!! - Matt Markham Harness Racing New Zealand

Not many would have predicted that Greg and Nina Hope’s first major trotting win for the season would come from Harrysul. So when the ungainly, but effective, trotter burst along the running rail in yesterday’s DG Jones Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup at Motukarara there were plenty scrambling for the form guides to try and figure out where a performance like that had come from. Not the Hopes’ though, they were pleasantly surprised of course, but they’ve always had a bit of time for the horse. “It’s always been there, we’ve just had to juggle a few things along the way,” Greg said. “He’s not the most fluent of trotters are you can see, but he’s actually very powerful and you can’t really feel the we hitch he has when you’re driving him. “His form recently has been a lot better than what it probably looks, he finished last when we last took him to the races but he raced three wide and still trotted a bit of time so I wasn’t ready to give up on him.” Now a four time winner on the grass, Harrysul has always shown a liking to the greener surfaces and he’s also been able to transition the high speed he possesses from the grit track to the grass. Trapped away four back on the fence yesterday while Bordeaux tried to run them off their feet from the front Harrysul and Ricky May looked to be in a bit  of trouble coming off the back straight. May’s never one to panic though. He bided his time and waited for the gap, then when Harrysul got through, he did the rest. “It was a pretty big performance I thought,” Hope said. “To come from where he did, especially with those other ones in front of us, was a great run.” Harrysul Hope will now look toward Addington in a couple of weeks for Harrysul as his headaches begin around placing four open class trotters and then finding drivers if they all end up together. Monbet will be the pick of the bunch as he continues to work toward a resumption at Ashburton later this month. There’s also Harrysul, Quite A Moment, who returns in this week’s Canterbury Park Trotting Cup at Addington, and Phil’s Gift who is proving to be a headache created of his own in his current form. “We’ve got a bit of working out to do, and so does Ricky. He’ll obviously drive Monbet but we are going to have clash some horses somewhere down the track.” The Woodend Beach stable went to a six win lead on the premiership with a winning double yesterday. They now sit on 16 thanks for the victories of Harrysul and maiden trotter, Ella Abbe. Robert Dunn is next on the list with 10 winners. Yesterday’s Motukarara meeting was another great day at the track for Jessica Young. The talented horsewoman, who has enjoyed big days in the sulky at Motukarara before, picked up a winning double. She produced a well-timed finish on Maybe Flyin to get home during the middle stages of the day before Clasina Maria, who is trained by her father Paul, smashed them in the last race, winning by more than five lengths.   By Matt Markham

Win, lose or draw on Friday night Andrew Faulks and Ray Warwick were assured a victory at Addington with Arran Chief. As the 100th horse to claim the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club’s incentive scheme, the Met Multiplier, the trainer and owner combination were guaranteed $7,500, but Faulks wanted, and knew he could get, the whole kit and caboodle. So that’s exactly what he did. On top of the $7,500 bonus, Arran Chief also collected a further $5,500 for their efforts when he made a mockery of his rivals in the feature trot of the night winning comfortably, with Faulks in the bike. “It didn’t surprise me, he’s actually been going good races behind some pretty nice horses,” Faulks said. “So I thought he could go pretty close if things went our way and that’s exactly how it panned out, we got the right trip and he felt great the whole way.” The Sundon gelding, who Warwick also bred, brought up the sixth win of his career from 36 starts. His four starts leading into Friday night had seen him beaten behind Destiny Jones, Le Reveur, Great Things Happen and Sunny Ruby so he was facing a notable drop in grade. That didn’t stop punters from letting him slide out to a $36 win price on the tote – a stunning price considering some of his recent performances. In order to qualify for the Met Multiplier horses are required to start at New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club meetings on 15 occasion and win once in a 12 month period. Arran Chief’s victory came last season when he won the Darren DeFilippi Memorial Trot in the hands of Jess Young. He won’t be eligible to return to defend the title this year, and Faulks isn’t exactly sure where he’s going to place him. “He’s up in the grades now. Every time he’s won he’s been only a couple of starts away from a drop back. “But we will find races for him here and there, he seems to really enjoy racing at this time of the year too which is good. “He’s got a few more wins in him yet I think.” Faulks’ good night on Friday extended to Sunday when he produced yet another upset winner in Alvira Hest. The talented trotting mare was subjected to a Ricky May special as she never past a horse inside the final 400m, coming from well off the speed up the inside of everyone to win clearing away in emphatic fashion. The daughter of Angus Hall now comes into serious contention for the Joan Belcher Fillies and Mares Speed Series with the win. Matt Markham

Four years ago Noel Kennard’s dream to introduce an affordable way of horse ownership kicked into gear. And today, on the same day that GoHarness Syndication lined up its first runner – Franco Harrison, the ever-growing brand is in with more than just a runners’ chance of getting their hands on their biggest victory to date. Harriet Of Mot will take on a strong field of trotters in the Lone Star Riccarton Sires’ Stakes Aged Trotting Classic this afternoon at Addington, looking to put the final stamp on what has been a whirlwind season for the exciting four-year-old trotter. Soundly beaten into second last weekend behind the equally as a promising Great Things Happen, Harriet Of Mot tonight gains a 10 metre relief from the handicapper and will head to Addington a lot fitter than what she was last week. “We knew she would probably need the run,” co-trainer Aimee Edmonds said. “But I didn’t think they would go that quick to be honest. If she had happened to win that race with the time she went she would have broken Kincaslough and Habibti’s national record. “So that run will have definitely done her the world of good for this week.” Edmonds, who trains in partnership with her father Craig, said it had been a case of letting the lightly framed mare find her own way in the proceeding last week’s appearance. “She had the next day off, and then an easy time of it for a couple of days. “But she has bounced back from the run really well and I know we are going to be taking a different version of her than what we did last week.” With high speed and just as much staying prowess, John Dunn, who has been astutely placing the mare in her races, will have some decisions to make once he has settled his charge into her work. “Her speed is ridiculous when she is saved up for one run, but she can be just as good doing a little bit of work.” Great Things Happen, who has now won his last five races for Gavin Smith, is there again today and will be sure to make thing interesting. There’s a mutual respect in both camps for each other’s charge too. “I’ve got a lot of time for Harriet Of Mot,” Smith said last week. “She’s an incredible trotter, there’s a lot of respect there.” Edmonds too was complimentary of her biggest rival ahead of today. “Gavin’s horse is going so well at the moment and was very good last week. “He’s going to be awfully hard to beat again.” Bookmakers opened Great Things Happen with a $1.80 quote while Harriet Of Mot opened at $3. The Edmonds combination have a chance at big race success earlier in the day too when Muscles Galore, the half-brother of Harriet Of Mot, tackles the PGG Wrighton New Zealand Yearling Sales Series Final for two-year-old trotters. The son of Monarchy got it all wrong last time out, but Edmonds was prepared to forgive and forget. “Johnny (Dunn) said he got pretty fired up so we have taken the blinds off him this week. “He’s got enough ability to match it with them if things go our way I thought his Rangiora run was great I thought.” The Greg and Nina Hope trained, Enghein, is the warm order favourite for the $65,000 event with the Gavin Smith pairing of Di’z Luck ($5.50) and Miracle Rising ($4.80) the only other two horses in single figure prices on the fixed odds market. Enghein opened at just $1.55 last night. Muscles Galore is a $15 chance. HRNZ MEDIA

Harness racing reinsman Robbie Close is now just one final hurdle away from his own near-perfect season. And you could bet your final dollar that the talented young horseman will be doing everything possible to overcome it. Close added the McMillians New Zealand Junior Driver Championships to his impressive season haul last night meaning he is both the New Zealand and Australasian Young Drivers Champion in the same season. But that wasn’t all. In winning the final of the three heats of last night’s competition on Pammy’s Boy, Close not only secured himself the championship, but brought up his 100th career driving win in the process. And he was pretty chuffed about both. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling to win my 100th race, but to do in these circumstances just makes it even better,’’ he said. But while the titles and accolades are all great, Close knows he’s got one more major assignment to tick off the list before the season ends and that’s getting his name at the top of the junior drivers premiership – a spot currently held by Stevie Golding. After Closes’ victory last night the margin is three with Golding picking up a winning double. “It’s going to be tough to peg Stevie back, but things are going pretty good so I’ll be giving it my best.’’ Heading into last night’s competition Close wasn’t all that confident of his chances. He picked up a vital third in the opening event of the night on The Persuader before sitting out the middle leg due to not being allocated a drive due to low numbers. In Pammy’s Boy, Close knew he had a horse capable and took luck out of the equation by sending the Murray Edmonds trained trotter straight to the front and dominating from there on. “It’s really nice to be able to achieve all this on one of Murray’s horses. “Murray really supported me early on in my career and gave me a lot of drives so it’s fitting.’’ Brad Williamson made the play early in last night’s competition by winning the opening heat on board the Greg and Nina Hope trained Western Art after a well thought out and perfectly executed drive. He beat home defending champion Michelle Neilson who pulled out all stops on Nui Toc Tien but just came up short in what was an all-South Island dominant with the first six placings going to the six Mainland representatives. The result was almost perfectly reversed in the second of the three heats with Tony Cameron producing a peach of a drive on Fair Dinkum Bromac to get the Mark Jones trained pacer home past the post first. He beat Michael Blakemore (Best Defence) and Jack MacKinnon (Scanreco Bay) with Neilson’s fifth placing on Alexy shutting out a North Island clean sweep. The result left the competition up in the air heading into the final race but Close produced a cagey drive to get the chocolates on Pammy’s Boy – narrowly beating home Kyle Marshall (Blue Don) and MacKinnon (Visualise). Close finished with 34 points, well clear of Neilson and MacKinnon who tied on 27 points. Neilson got the nod for second placing overall on the basis of finishing second in the opening heat. The other major prize of the night – the North v. South challenge was claimed by the South Island side who won with 147 points to the North’s 137. Matt Markham

In many ways, Isaiah is close to the perfect racehorse. And Natalie Rasmussen gives the impression she wouldn’t mind a stable full of horses exactly like him. The ultra-consistent pacer added another black-type victory to his career record yesterday when he took out the Group 2 Pelorus Classic on the first of two days at the Marlborough Harness Racing Club’s meeting at Waterlea Raceway in Blenheim. It was a tradesman like victory of the highest order. Buzzed out of the gate by Rasmussen to secure the lead over Venus Serena, the four-year-old entire then ensured that a fresh up Tiger Tara was made to work hard to get past him when he went in search of the lead himself with a lap to run. But despite all the early attention, Rasmussen’s confidence never waned. “I wasn’t too worried, he’s just the ultimate guy this horse,’’ she said. “You can ask him to work in his races, but you know he will still give you everything at the finish. “He was travelling so well coming off the back straight.’’ His victory – No.13 of his career – continued a great run of consistency for the son of Art Major and E J Becks. In 31 starts he has finished first, second or third on 26 occasions – often racing in black type races against some of the best horses in the business. His gate speed, toughness and will to win will make him a force to be reckoned with wherever he goes, but Rasmussen was of the opinion that it was time to see what he was capable of in Australia. The Pelorus victory comes with the added carrot of an automatic invite to the Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on Inter Dominion Grand Final day – an offering Rasmussen was keen to take up. “I think a race like the Chariots would be right up his alley. “He’s done a great job this season racing in open handicaps, but I think we will stick to his own age group with him now and then hopefully have a look at some of the bigger races next season. “He never lets you down. He just gets out there and does the job.’’ Despite Isaiah’s dominant victory, the Pelorus, although small in numbers, underlined just how good the current four-year-old crop is. Tiger Tara, fresh up since his sixth in the New Zealand Trotting Cup fought as only he can to finish in second placing after looking a forlorn hope to finish in the top three half way down the straight and Te Kawau and Venus Serena were both also very meritorious in their third and fourth placings respectively. Rasmussen and Purdon won’t be at Blenheim tomorrow for the meeting’s second day but they will still be represented. Yesterday’s Cup Prelude winner, Backup, will do exactly as his name suggests in the $18,000 3200 metre event. Stable junior driver, Matt Anderson will step in to do the driving duties on the pacer and will do the same with Big Lucy earlier in the day. Matt Markham - Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand  

On one hand, James Geddes was a little surprised at the manner in which Magna was able to win yesterday's Xmas Cup at yesterdays harness racing meeting at Motukarara, but then on the other hand he wasn't. If you're confused by that, don't be. It's just the way the smart pacing mare is. Fresh up since May, she sat three wide outside Backup for most of the last 1000 metres and instead of reaching for the oxygen tanks half way down the testing Motukarara straight she found another gear and kept fighting strongly to the line to win in emphatic fashion. And while her $20 tote price would reflect that her chances didn't appear all that strong, she turned in a performance more worthy of a horse paying single figures. "She's always been a tough mare,'' Geddes, who trains in partnership with his father Jim, said. "I thought she would go a good race, but I guess you have to be a little bit surprised at the way she did it.'' Unsighted since running fourth to Isaiah at Addington at the start of May, Geddes said it's been a healthy diet of swimming for the daughter of American Ideal. "She's hardly been in the cart, it's just been swimming and more swimming for her. "To be honest she's probably only on three legs, and she didn't feel all that comfortable out there.'' Motukarara has proven to be a happy hunting ground for Magna having registered two wins, a second and two thirds on the surface. Geddes was quick to pay credit to his father, who he said has been instrumental. "I'm just wrapt for Dad, he's done all the work with her so a lot of the credit must be given to him.'' Ther father and son partnership have made a good start to the season with Dixie Commando also winning this month. Earlier in the day, the class act of yesterday's meeting, Joanne's A Delight, made light work of her resumption. The Nigel McGrath trained filly didn't feel all that happy on the grass track surface and her trainer has no intention on starting her on the green stuff again. "She didn't like it all, I thought we were in trouble for a while,'' McGrath said. "Class got her through in the end.'' The main early target for the smart filly is the Sales Series race at Addington at the end of next month. McGrath, along with the filly's American owners Gordon Banks and Mark Hanover, opted to miss the three-year-old features at Alexandra Park with an idea of being on the fresh side for Addington. "They are running some serious times up there so some of them are going to be coming down a bit tired. "We will look to have one more run before the Sales Series.'' Courtesy of Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand   <  

Laurence Hanrahan has been in harness racing long enough to know what makes a good horse.  With a score sheet on the wall that includes New Age Man, The Tough Nut and Marika, the Ashburton horseman is more than qualified to back up any comments he might make about a horse in his stable.  So when he says that Cullen Keefe is potentially one of the best horses he has had for a few years, it’s worth taking notice. The new kid on the block might never reach the dizzying heights of those who stood in the stables before him. But you know that with Hanrahan at the helm, he’s going to get every chance to do so. Unbeaten in his three races so far everything about Cullen Keefe points towards him being a little bit better than just your normal horse. There is an arrogance and style in the way he goes about his business that is usually only reserved for those who have big futures in front of them. And as far as Hanrahan is concerned, the best is still to come. “I think we will see plenty of improvement out of him in the next 12 months,’’ he said.  “He’s a good horse now, definitely one of the better ones I have had for a few years, but with a bit more time on his side he could get even better.  “Especially physically, that’s where I think he will improve the most.’’ The unbeaten record of the well-bred pacer will go on the line at Ashburton on Boxing Day when he lines up in front of his home crowd in the middle of the day’s proceedings. With neither of his last two wins carrying a penalty, Cullen Keefe remains in the C1 grade which should see him hard to beat again – and starting at very short odds on the market. Hanrahan said he had come through his fresh up run at Forbury Park last week well. He was driven on that occasion by Kimberley Butt who is the grand-daughter of local racing identities Dick and Leonie Prendergast. “It was a good effort I thought, you are always a bit suspect when you haven’t had a race and but Kimberley drove him well. “You would expect him to be hard to beat this week, but it’s another challenge for him and there are a few nice horses in there so he will need to be on the top of his game.’’ Ricky May jumps back in the bike again on Friday and will also be in the sulky behind Hanrahan’s other two runners during the day – The Emperor Robyn (race 5) and Bute Courage (race 11). As long as both of his other runners are running on well at the finish their trainer is going to be happy. “I think we will learn a bit off The Emperor Robyn, I’m happy with him, but not completely happy with him. “Bute Courage has really strengthened up and come back well, but he has to take on three pretty smart ones so if he could run fourth I would be really happy.’’ Today’s feature, the Ashburton Cup, has drawn a small, but select, field of pacers to run over the 3200 metres. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are represented by two runners in Isaiah and Meticulous while Greg and Nina Hope have Jason Rulz and Mossdale Conner. Cran Dalgety might hold the strongest hand in the race however with his talented pacer Bit Of A Legend. A winner at Addington last week, the former Breeders Crown winner will start off a 25 metre handicap but has the services of Dexter Dunn. “You know what to expect from him,’’ Dalgety said. “He will go out there and give you his all and you would like to think that he will be pretty hard to beat.’’ Later in the day Vulcan will attempt to join an elite list of trotters in the $1 million club. The 10-time Group One winner is just $5,000 shy of the magical mark and jumps into another small, but select, field of trotters. Courtesy of Matt Markham - HarnessRacing New Zealand  

Tim Butt knows enough about training horses at the elite level to know that it will take more than a miracle for him to win one of the two main features at Addington tonight. But it’s not going to stop him from trying. One of our champion horseman over the past two decades will take three horses to tonight’s Premier meeting at Addington, two of whom he confesses have very little, if any hope, and one which he considers a cracking each way chance. The each way bet is Franco Harrington. And Butt says punters shouldn’t drop the big pacer after he was disappointing when beaten at his last start. “He’s a bit of a funny horse,’’ he said. “He probably should have won his last start, but I think you’ll see a better version of him this week.’’ The other of Butt’s chances tonight are Pass Them By who takes on a star-studded field in the Canterbury Classic and old stable favourite, Vulcan, who begins his Dominion Handicap campaign. Pass Them By has shown more the a glimpse of the form that first attracted Butt to him this time in but he still faces a massive task from a second line draw. “It’d be a surprise if he won it. “He’s going really good, but unfortunately he is just a couple of notches below the really good ones. “This race should give him a really good hit out before Methven next week which is our main aim with him at this stage. “I would have said he was a chance of sneaking a place had he drawn the front line but starting from the second row makes things that wee bit tougher and he would need lots to go right.’’ Then there is the Vulcan. Don’t bother asking Butt what to expect from the almost millionaire trotter – because he doesn’t know. His last public trial was that bad that every test imaginable was undertaken, but all were to avail with nothing being able to be detected. “It was a bit of a head scratcher. “At the end of the day we have put it down to him getting on a bit and he has thrown in the odd shocker along the way in the past. “We are really happy with him other than that. “But he’s got to find a few lengths to be competitive this week that’s for sure. “What you know with him though is that he will get better and better with racing.’’ Butt knows time is running out for the multiple Group One winner, but he’s keen to give his old mate, who has given him so many thrills as much opportunity as possible to reach the $1 million mark. “He deserves to achieve that feat I think. “It’s something a bit special because not many trotters have achieved it and when you consider what he has done in his career it would seem to be a fitting thing to happen.’’ Vulcan’s contest tonight in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup a race which Butt has won twice before with his two brilliant trotters, Lyell Creek (2000) and Take A Moment (2001).  By Matt Markham Harness Racing New Zaland

The dream is fast becoming a reality for team Tiger Tara. The gritty four-year-old rocketed his way into New Zealand Trotting Cup contention with a professional victory in the time-honoured Hannon Memorial at Oamaru yesterday. And for Bob and Jen Sandford along with their co-owners John Gould and and Geoff Dunn – who also does the training – things are starting to fall into place nicely. The intention was never to push Tiger Tara toward a Cup start, but it was instead to let him find his own feet. Something he is doing in style. A bold second to Christen Me in the Maurice Holmes Vase pointed toward a big showing from the Sires’ Stakes Final winner of last season and he didn’t disappoint. “It’s all getting a bit exciting,’’ Bob Sandford said after the race. “To be honest we probably didn’t have too many expectations coming into this prep, we were just happy to see how things panned out. “But it looks now like we might get a shot at the big one.’’ Handled expertly by Gerard O’Reilly, Tiger Tara jumped out of the one out one back position rounding the final bend and his blistering speed got him to the line. And while in reflection that might not seem like anything special – especially considering that none of the big guns of this year’s Cup were in attendance for the race – when you break the performance down, it’s full of merit. He’s run his last 800 metres in better than 55.5 second and clocked his last mile in 1.55 as well. O’Reilly was forced to move a lot sooner than he had hoped which left the pair a sitting duck but when Four Starzzz Flash ranged up to win at the 150 metre mark, Tiger Tara kicked. The win should see him move high up into the Top 15 rankings for the Cup when the next round is released tomorrow afternoon. Dunn wouldn’t commit to where he was headed next but he gave an indication that it would probably be more likely to be the Canterbury Classic next month as opposed to the Avon City Ford Cup next Friday night. “We will have to sit down and have a think about that one.’’ Four Starzzz Flash looked a lot more like his old self with a barnstorming finish to run second. “He’s a funny horse, you need to keep him on the job and up on the nickel,’’ Dexter Dunn said. “He just got held up for long enough that I think it might have cost him going close, but Geoff’s horse was always going to keep fighting.’’ Pure Power, who led the field throughout and set up a 3.14.4 time for the 2600 metre stand – the third fastest running of the Hannon – finished third, but was later relegated to fourth behind Pass Them By after it was deemed the big pacer had shifted across the track and into the line of the Tim Butt trained runner.  Courtesy Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand    

It’s been a tough week in Ashburton, but a victory by Franco Nadal at Alexandra Park on Thursday night might have provided a small flickering of light on an otherwise dark week for the Mid Canterbury town. The close knit area was rocked on Monday morning when a man entered the WINZ building and opened fire on staff members, killing Peggy Noble and Leigh Cleveland and seriously injuring Lindy Curtis. The tragedy has had a direct impact on almost everyone in the Ashburton area, but for the Ashvegas Five O No.1 Syndicate the emotion has run deep. The syndicate, which is made up of a wide variety of people from Ashburton who have a passion for harness racing, includes Don Campbell - the partner of Peggy Noble who had her life taken on Monday morning. Campbell is a passionate member of the syndicate and has always enjoyed watching the horses the syndicate have had at the races and friends confirmed last night that Noble too enjoyed the thrills and spills that horse racing can often offer owners. Franco Nadal pulled out all the stops to hold off the challenge of the talented Leanne’s Boy to win – underlining trainer Ben Waldron’s decision to send him to the North Island to campaign over the past six weeks. Handled astutely by Todd McFarlane, Franco Nadal had a nose to spare from Leanne’s Boy at the finishing post, registering the seventh win of his 48 start career. An In The Pocket trotter, Franco Nadal was purchased by the syndicate on the recommendation of Waldron, from Spreydon Lodge. The group have also race, and had success with Locharnza Franco who was purchased in a similar fashion to Franco Nadal. Courtesy Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand    

Champion pacer, Terror To Love, might have began his bid toward a historic fourth New Zealand Trotting Cup victory in the most inglorious of fashions today at Rangiora, but the camp behind the three-time Cup winner couldn’t have been happier. In his first public appearance since winning the Rangiora Classic near the end of April, Terror To Love was given a quiet time of it by his regular pilot, Ricky May, in the heat. The run was very similar to that of each of his resuming runs over the past two years – the familairity of it not being lost on his co-trainer Graham Court. “It’s exactly what we wanted, he did it nice and easy and within himself,’’ Court said. “We have done that with his first run each year and it has worked so we certainly weren’t keen on changing anything. “I was very happy with the performance and we can continue to step things up as we go along now – he’s been in work for a while so is pretty fit, but just needs the final trimming before we can get real serious with him.’’ Away safely from his 30 metre handicap, May and Terror To Love settled in second last position of the five horse field while Ballindooley and Vice Chairman escaped to a considerably lead early on in proceedings. The trailing trio eventually hauled the lead pair in with around 800 metres to run and May never pulled Terror To Love into the clear from there on and let him run to the line under a good hold on the back of the the heat-winning Ballindooley and Dexter Dunn. “I was really happy with his effort,’’ May said after the heat. “He felt really strong and paced and steered really nicely for him, he’s usually a bit lazy at trials and workouts.’’ Court confirmed he would head to Ashburton next week for another trial – and then potentially one more before resuming in the Avon City Ford Cup at the end of the month. Ballindooley, who led throughout the heat looked strong in the run to the line for Dexter Dunn while Vice Chairman, who trailed throughout was also solid in finishing second. Ballindooley is one of 11 runners nominated for this week’s Maurice Holmes Vase at Addington which carries an automatic entry into the Cup field. Others making the race their resumption in an effort to sneak into the top 15 spots are; Tiger Tara, Jivin Cullen, Pemberton Shard, Pass Them By, Pure Power and Jason Rulz, the latter of whom was a workout winner at Methven on the weekend. They will be joined by Lochaburn, Jimmy Johnstone, Four Starzzz Flash and Christen Me who all raced in the National Handicap two weeks ago – with Christen Me emerging victorious.  Courtesy Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand

He might have only finished second, but the first up performance of Christen Me at today’s Ashburton trials gained a big tick from the team behind the New Zealand Trotting Cup bound pacer. But the chances of seeing him in a surprise appearance at Rangiora on Sunday are growing slimmer by the hour. Trainer Cran Dalgety has the Victoria Cup winner up and running early on in proceedings with a view to giving him a slight let up after a month or so in order to have him peaking perfectly on November 11. And judging by his performance against four other fellow Cup aspirants today (August 12th), Dalgety is already on the right track. Carrying a bit of condition, Dexter Dunn had Christen Me settled last in the field and never angled him into the clear until 250 metres off the finishing line. When asked he grabbed the bit and really hooked into his work making up plenty of ground to run second behind Jimmy Johnstone, who enjoyed a trail, in a slick last 800 metres which bettered 55 seconds. “Really pleasing effort first up,’’ Dunn said after the heat. “He’s still got the high speed, when I asked him to run he really jumped through the bridle. “It’s a perfect start for us.’’ Dalgety had intended on running in a graded preferential barrier draw on Sunday at Rangiora – but the race looks unlikely to get off the ground with only seven horses accepting for the race – some of which held double nominations. It leaves Dalgety in a slight predicament, but the master trainer wasn’t harbouring too many concerns. “It probably just means we will have to look at another trial. “The idea behind having him going now was so that we could give him a freshen up before things get real serious, so we certainly won’t be pushing him.’’ Jimmy Johnstone looked in good nick with his victory – sprinting up the passing lane in good fashion. Those in behind; Locharburn, Four Starzzz Flash and Pass Them By were all doing good work at the line as well. Meanwhile Dalgety threw a curve ball into the mix for the up-coming Breeders Crown Series with a decision to chuck forgotten pacer, Bit Of A Legend, who will also be a nomination for the Cup when they are realesed tomorrow (Wednesday afternoon), on a plane to Australia tomorrow. He will potentially join stable mate, Katy Perry at the series, provided he comes through his assignment on Sunday with flying colours. “It’s a bit of a risk, but you don’t get anywhere by sitting back and wondering,’’ Dalgety said. “We are pretty happy with him, all his work has been done away from the public. “I think he will compete well over there.’’ Bit Of A Legend will fly out of Auckland tomorrow.  Matt Markham - Harness Racing New Zealand

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