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The first major milestone of Ben Hope’s driving career may be just the beginning. But the 21-year-old admits unless he continues to improve he would be just as happy to hand the reins on stable runners to somebody else. Hope drove his 100th winner behind one of his favourite horses in Midnight Dash at Addington on Thursday night, the pair overcoming a 30m handicap to win easily after Hope handled the four-year-old a treat. That Midnight Dash could overcome the handicap comes as no surprise as he has been competitive in a four-year-old crop that looks full of open class horses and one of those is stablemate Muscle Mountain, who Hope drove to win at Addington last week and ultimately will be Ben’s drive longer term. “It is almost a shame we have Muscle Mountain from that point of view cause I love driving this horse, he is a corker. “But all going well with them both he will need another driver soon and that driver could end up on him at the Jewels, which is where they both will head.” It has taken Hope just three and a half years to get to 100 wins at a time when he is also part of the training team with parents Greg and Nina. Originally he wanted to train and try his hand at driving but now he is the stable’s main driver as he has continued to improve. “We still have Ricky driving for us but I am lucky that I do most of our driving now, with Ricky still very much part of the stable as obviously drives horses like A G’s White Socks. “But I have had really good support and being on those better horses makes you a better driver. It helps with your confidence.” While Hope’s confidence is rightly high he is also realistic about his driving future. “I want to keep driving and I enjoy it but I also realise not everybody is a Dexter Dunn or Blair Orange. “So if I keep improving, which I have to, then I think I should keep driving but if I don’t then the stable can always assess that moving forward. “But so far it is going well and I am happy to get to 100 in just over three years,” says the 21-year-old. Hope says May has been a big help but says John Dunn has had the greatest influence on his career and driving style. “Having Ricky around is great and I like discussing things with him but John is somebody who gives me advice and is always happy to answer my questions so I am very grateful to him.”   by Michael Guerin

The heavyweights of the yearling sales ring move their battle to Alexandra Park tonight and the victories could be just as shared. The major stables of Robert Dunn, Steve Telfer, Cran Dalgety and Ray Green were among the biggest spenders at the yearling sales spread over the last 12 days, while young trainer Hayden Cullen will get plenty of new firepower through buyers formerly with Mark Purdon. And those same five stables provide many of the winning chances in the richest races as Alexandra Park’s Derby meeting kicks off early than usual, with a strong night tonight and then a boomer hosting six major races next week. Tonight’s highlight races have an even feel to them with the exception of the Lincoln Farms Founders Mobile which really should fall to Copy That, trained by Lincoln Farms trainer Green. Copy That may not have raced since beating Self Assured in the Flying Mile at Cambridge early last month but the way he sprinted past most of his rivals tonight in a workout at Pukekohe last week suggests he is fit and ready to win. Aiding him in the fact maybe his key rival Christianshavtime doesn’t have the natural gates speed to stay in front of him and if Copy That reaches the lead he will win, suggesting his $1.50 opening quote was multi gold. But before him things are more complicated in the feature races starting with race two, the lead-up to next week’s Woodlands Northern Derby. Krug may still be the best horse in this crop but not by much and It’s All About Faith is drawn inside him and trainer Cullen expects him to lead and be hard to beat. “He has improved with his last start win and if he leads it is going to be hard for them to get past him,” says Cullen. But It’s All About Faith can be hard to trust and American Dealer and the greatly-improved Hot And Treacherous add depth to a race that could be decided by the tempo of the first 600m. Cullen has also has outstanding filly Bettor Twist in the Peter Breckon Memorial, victory in which would mean the world to her main owners Ken and Karen Breckon, with Peter being Ken’s late brother. Bettor Twist is a brutal filly who loves a fight and will probably win next Friday’s Oaks but Cullen concedes she will need to go back at the start tonight and possibly come sit parked at the bell, not an easy way to win any group two. “She is really well and forward enough to win because she has had two workouts but it is not an easy race,” says Cullen. That is for sure as any one of Enjoy Me, La Rosa, Darling Me or brilliant last start winner Off N Gone could easily break 2:40 for the 2200m and make Bettor Twist work very hard. John Dunn, who along with his father Robert took home around 16 yearlings from the sales, expects Off N Gone to handle her first start right-handed. “She should because she has really improved a lot but it is a good field and I can see them going hard,” says Dunn. Telfer has a huge hand in the race and Enjoy Me has been the other big improver in this crop, winning the Sires’ Stakes on New Years Eve downing Bettor Twist. She missed a planned start since with a minor injury but impressed at the workouts last week and may still be improving. Dunn is more confident with Need You Now in the Charles Roberts Stakes (race four) with the high class mare caught parked last start in a national record group one but dropping a long way in grade tonight. View the full Auckland fields click here!   by Michael Guerin

Tristan Larsen is applying the same patience to his career that he used to win with Zach Lowe at Invercargill on Wednesday. The 18-year-old reinsman produced the tiny pacer at the right time in a torrid run race on a soaked track for the first win of Zach Lowe’s career and the sixth of his driver's. “I was proud of him winning because he is only a little horse and it was very testing out there,” says Larsen, the son of trainer Kirk and Michelle. The three-year-old pacer was helped no end by Larsen’s patience in the race and the young man sees his career the same way. Like almost every junior driver who pulls the colours on and starts getting some wins Larsen would like to make the NZ Young Drivers Champs but says it that doesn’t happen this year that is okay, especially as the South Island boosts enormous depth in the junior driver’s ranks. “It is really only my first season of driving because last season was so cut short by Covid,” says Larsen. “I had one winner then and I have had five this season so I am going well. “So if I don’t get enough points for the series this season then hope fully I will learn and be better next season.”  That learning includes working for his father first in the morning, then Brett Gray later and then back to Dad’s late afternoon. “Dad wanted me to go learn from somebody else too and it has worked out well because I now have two people helping me learn.”  On the driving front Tristan says his listens to Brent Barclay as a guide as well as his Dad, even though he looks different in the cart from Kirk’s stiff back style. “I haven’t really moulded myself on another driver, I just try and be me. But Dad and I probably look different in the cart because he has more weight on him than me,” laughs Tristan. “Then again, I am only 65kgs.” Larsen’s drive may have been one of the best of the day but Samantha Ottley was the undoubted star of the driving three winners, giving her half the card of the races that were completed as race two was abandoned. Two of Ottley’s wins were for trainer Michael House taking him to 43 for the season only 10 behind the stalled Purdon/Rasmussen stable so he should pass them at some stage and push for second on the premiership.   by Michael Guerin

Robert Wilson could take a step closer to a personal best season at today’s Invercargill meeting. The Balfour trainer has three of his six racehorses in training engaged at the short and sharp seven-race meeting and all three appear to have at least each way chances. And if any of Tease My Tartan (race one), Galleons Future (race six) or Better Galleon (race seven) were to win it would take Wilson to 10 winners for the season, edging closer to his PB of 13. He recorded that number in the season ending 2017 and is on track for a similar total with good draws a help today. “The draws should definitely help us on Wednesday and we have two of them backing up from Sunday, which has worked well for us before.”Bettor Galleon is the best of Wilson’s trio, having already won five races from 56 starts, and she has high gate speed so looks ideally suited by the ace in the 2200m mobile last race today. “She can use that gate speed to lead early but to be honest she is better with a trail,” says Wilson. “So I’d like her to take a sit on the right horse and hopefully not get pushed too far back.”Bettor Galleon did just that when finishing second to the handy Chuckles last start and looks a good each way chance today. Wilson rates his still learning trotter Galleons Future, who has been luckless lately but looks to be in the right race today. He bolted in in a fast time four starts ago to leave maidens, got trapped wide at Addington when venturing north after that and was taken on in front in a far stronger field last start. “He is a good horse and if his manners are good he will be hard to beat,” says Wilson. “I thought enough of him to take him to Addington a couple of starts ago so he can win a race like this.”Tease My Tartan is a 23-start maiden so may never make it to Addington but Wilson would love to win a race with the now eight-year-old. “That would be very satisfying if we could,” he offers. “We almost sacked him last year but he is a lovely old horse and we have kept going and he has rewarded us with some better runs and I actually think he is getting better. “So I think there is a maiden win in him somewhere even though he doesn’t have much speed.” View the Invercargill fields click here!   by Michael Guerin

The Cambridge club may have been one of the big winner from a race run at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Because after Bolt For Brilliance returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in four months on Friday night trainer-driver Tony Herlihy confirmed he will extend his campaign all the way to the Jewels in June. And that sets up a potential superstar young trotters clash on the Cambridge day between Bolt For Brilliance, Cracker Hill, Ultimate Stride, Muscle Mountain and Midnight Dash. The big four of that quartet are all, at this stage, being set for the Jewels after the mega day had to be postponed for a year last season because of Covid. Now it could have a trotting race to rival anything the pacers can produce that day. Bolt For Brilliance was a bit too sharp for Cracker Hill in their October clashes at Alexandra Park but the latter’s trainer Brad Williamson is adamant he will be better left-handed so the potential clash of the young trotters could set the tone for many of next season’s battles. Bolt For Brilliance was backed as unbeatable even off a 45m handicap in the main trot on Friday and unlike his last-start defeat he was able to latch on to the body of the field far easier. He worked around to pressure the leader at the 600m and won well from a brave Temporale with the overall time about 5 seconds shy of what the winner is capable of. “He was better for that fresh up run and he can go to the races at the Derby meeting now,” said Herlihy. After that he has a huge end to the season with the Anzac and Rowe Cups before the Jewels. Bolt For Brilliance provided Herlihy with a rare training treble in running races on Friday, having prepared Mailman and Cowboys N Bandits to win the previous two pacing races. Later in the night the two-year-old capped their preparations for their Young Gun Finals on March 5 and that saw a double to the Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan stable. Artisan suggested she is the best and most professional of the fillies when she won their heat and she goes into the final with two wins and a brave second so only a poor draw will stop her starting favourite. “She is a lovely filly and is sister to Major Trojan who won the WA Derby so a group win in a few weeks would be great for her,” said Purdon. In the boys heat Montana D signalled his arrival on the juvenile boys scene with a huge late run to catch a very gallant leader in Classy Operator. Montana D J, a son of Captaintreacherous and former superstar filly One Dream, cost $170,000 at the sales last year for Queensland owner Dean Shannon and even after two starts he looks worth every cent and more. Full Auckland results click here!   by Michael Guerin

You may not get paid more for winning races by a bigger margin but co-trainer Peter Blanchard still hopes Aladdin thrashes his opposition at Alexandra Park tonight. Because the better the talented three-year-old races is in coming weeks the more likely he will stay in his new trainer’s care. Blanchard and his son Vaughan only took over the training of Aladdin after he won the Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve, one of the last feature-race wins for the All Stars. Blanchard had negotiated the sale of Aladdin to South Australian-based owners and while they now appear to have gotten a bargain they agreed to leave him in this country to contest the Woodlands Derby on March 5. But Blanchard would, understandably, like to see him stay longer and any winning form would help. “He is primarily still here for the Derby and then his South Australian owners would like him to go there for their Derby,” explains Blanchard. “But that isn’t worth a lot of money so if he is racing well here I’d love to see him stay longer, maybe even through until the Jewels (Cambridge in June). “With the way the Australian season has changed now and plenty of their big three-year-old races not being till later in the year I think he could stay here till the Jewels and still get plenty of good racing there.”If Aladdin is going to be any chance in a race like the Derby he would need to be winning tonight, especially with the aid of the ace draw. He showed good gate speed to trail and fight hard for fourth in a far stronger field last Friday and Blanchard says expects a far better showing tonight. “He needed the run last week and his work since has been good,” he says. “He has the gate speed to lead and then Peter (Ferguson) can make decisions but he is versatile. “He led to win three starts ago but trailed to win the Sales Series.” Aladdin also has a major advantage in the draws over key rivals Luke John, who is also Derby-bound, and the much-improved Jack Ryan. While Aladdin can win from on the speed tonight the main trot tonight should fall to 45m marker Bolt For Brilliance even though he was beaten in a similar field last start. Bolt For Brilliance cost punters plenty when he was run off his hooves over 2200m last start but the extra 500m tonight will help, not just because he will have longer to catch up but the tempo will be more sedate. “He got a bit lost last start because they were so far behind the field and he didn’t really know how to chase them early but he still went great,” says trainer-driver Tony Herlihy. With only two rivals off the front line, both of them unruly, the 45m handicap shouldn’t be enough to stop Bolt For Brilliance tonight. The other highlights tonight are two more heats of the Young Gun series, one each for the boys and girls, which have had great numerical support this season.   by Michael Guerin

The potential sale of Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream has been delayed by the Covid restrictions put in place this week. But owner Jean Feiss says if all goes well in the next week the wonderful little mare is still likely to be sold to the United States. Amazing Dream was a brave if somewhat expensive second to Watch Me Now in the Breeders Stakes at Addington last Friday going down in national record time for a mare after leading. “I don’t think she is as good in front but you have got to lead when you get the chance and I am not making excuses,” says Feiss. Amazing Dream was scheduled to be vetted early this week for a potential sale to well-known North American-based owners but the veterinarian those owners use is based in Auckland and could not travel to Canterbury to perform the examination. “So when that happens will depend on how things go with Covid over there,” says Victorian-based Feiss. “But if she vets well and the offer is still on the table then the intention is she will still be sold.” That would mean the two mares who quinellaed the race were both sold, with Watch Me Now also heading to the US as has Beyond Words, so the only three mares in New Zealand who have won a group one pacing race this season could all soon be gone. The delay to her vetting and any potential sale also makes it highly unlikely Amazing Dream will head to the Sydney carnival where she could have been aimed at the Ladyship Mile but she is not now automatically qualified after her defeat last week. Feiss had a frustrating night at the office at Addington with her New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured also beaten by Pembrook Playboy in the Summer Cup. “I still thought he went good and he hasn’t raced much so is still working his way back to his peak,” says Feiss. “They simply can’t win all the time in that grade and he can head back to Auckland now for the free-for-alls up there.” That means another clash or two with Copy That in races that hopefully get off the ground to give the Auckland meeting some open class firepower. Meanwhile, Feiss wasn’t bidding at the Karaka yearling sales on Sunday but still intends buying some yearlings if the Christchurch sales go ahead next week. “I didn’t even bid on Sunday but it looked a really strong sale which is great for the industry. “It was strange not being there but I have my eye on a couple in Christchurch and I am hoping it goes head next Monday cause I intend bidding there.”   by Michael Guerin

Now the balancing act really begins with Muscle Mountain. The exciting four-year-old trotter returned in stunning style at Addington on Friday night, overcoming a tough run to win the Fahey Fence Hire Summer Trot in a 1:57 mile rate for the 1950m. That is impressive enough but the fact Muscle Mountain hadn’t raced since his third in the NZ Free-For-All on Cup day confirmed he is the real deal and an open force in the trotting ranks. It was a wonderful training performance by Greg, Nina and Ben Hope but now Greg says the real thinking starts. “He is a lot like a thoroughbred in the fact he is naturally fit and doesn’t need a lot of work, which is one reason he could win like that fresh up,” says Hope. “And it helps we have good horses to work him with at home. But to trot that fast a time so early in a campaign shows what a good horse he is.” Hopes says the fact Muscle Mountain is still very much growing up means he wants to race him sparingly so he will pick and choose his targets. “He has the four and five-year-old championship in about six weeks and will probably need a race before then and then we have to work out whether we tackle the Rowe Cup. “I’d like to but at this stage his races are better spaced so it would be a big ask to go both the Anzac Cup and Rowe Cup so the Rowe would be more likely. “Then he could go to the Jewels, because they are a really big deal to us.” While it would be tempting to want to chase all the major trots Hope is adamant that wouldn’t be the best thing for Muscle Mountain and at least he has the sizeable deterrent of knowing Sundees Son is our undisputed trotting king and dodging him a few times may not be a bad thing. And there is another reason the Hopes are adopting the patient approach with Muscle Mountain. “He is a horse who has been really hard to get 100 per cent and maybe he has never been right at his peak. “He has issues with back soreness and with his blood and Nina does so much of the work working on his soreness.” Muscle Mountain’s brave win over Dark Horse was just one of the highlights of an epic harness racing night but the most dramatic race of the meeting was the $150,000 NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old fillies won by Off N Gone. She smashed her opponents to win by four and a half lengths over With Grace, a stablemate in the Robert Dunn barn. The winner was so dominant you couldn’t take anything away from her but the sensations started before the field even got to the dispatch point as favourite La Rosa refused to score up and lost all chance. In a double blow for her trainer Mark Jones his other runner and second favourite Braeview Kelly then rolled into a gallop in an early speed duel trying to hold the lead, with the pair finishing tailed off. While those two incidents were a blood nose for punters both horses would have needed to produce their best to beat Off N Gone as she rated 1:56.9 for the 1950m. It was the fifth win in 11 starts for the daughter of Somebeachsomewhere and the former Dunn-trained good filly Kabet.   by Michael Guerin

Three years ago Nathan Williamson was watching a racing show on television, turned to his wife Katie and said the words that changed his career. “We got to change the way we go about this,” said the now 32-year-old horseman. Williamson was watching a discussion about the dominance of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen and how the challenge was for other trainers to raise to their standards, not complain about the All Stars success. The words hit the talented young harness horseman like a mallet. “We were going ok at that time, training winners and had a good-sized team but we weren’t going to go to that next level and not to the top,” says Williamson. “That show really made me think about how we were running the business and I decided we should have less horses but better bred ones and have a plan.” That plan in involved getting successful owners to re-invest and trust Williamson’s judgement, buying better-bred yearlings and then target carnivals at the major tracks while establishing a professional base in Southland. The Williamson’s plan has worked and now the young gun trainer is one of the most feared in the South Island with ambitions of northern raids and buying even better horseflesh at the yearling sales, which start this Sunday. But first he heads to Addington tonight with the tangible results of his new, improved training programme, four horses good enough to compete against the best and maybe beat them. He has exciting three-year-old Ragazzo Mach up against Sires’ Stakes winner It’s All About Faith in race two, stable star Dark Horse in the main trot, Pembrook Playboy taking on NZ Cup winner Self Assured in the Summer Cup and stable newcomer Yankee Party in the group one $100,000 Breeders Stakes. He realises Yankee Party can’t beat Amazing Dream in the last of those races and even though his other three will be among the favourites they may not win either. But Williamson is now in the big time and loving it. “This was part of the plan way back then and Friday is an important night for us,” he offers. “With the sales starting this weekend we want to show people we can train in the big time, especially with Mark and Natalie taking a break. That has changed the industry and maybe the dynamic of the sales.”Pembrook Playboy (R7, No.2) has been in scintillating form in the deep south and has an open class motor but taking on a New Zealand and Auckland Cup winner in Self Assured is a step up so big he might need a pole vault. “He is still a big baby of a horse but I will put him in the race and give him his chance. But I don’t think he can beat Self Assured,” says Williamson. Dark Horse is a wonderful follower of speed with a sprint to match most open class trotters in the country but tonight’s Summer Trotting Free-For-All will require early pressure that doesn’t relent to see her at her best. “I used to think she had a top trotter’s sprint but after a few injuries I think she is a very good group two or three horse away from the very best. “So she can win this week but Muscle Mountain will be hard to beat and it might come down to the tempo.” Ragazzo Mach (R2, No.9) may be the best of Williamson’s new generation and as a pre-Christmas three-year-old beat good older horses in the Wairio Cup and then slayed his last-start opponents by almost 10 lengths. In an open year for three-year-olds he is a legitimate NZ Derby hope but finds himself in a wonderful intermediate grade field tonight containing four or five future open class horses. “You wouldn’t believe he could end up in a field this strong and from the outside barrier I can’t go rushing off the gate (at the start),” says Williamson. “So in reality it might be a race where he hits the line hard and we are happy with that if we don’t get the right luck. “But he is the real deal and I think he has a Derby chance. He is the sort of horse we wanted to be training by now when we made those tough calls three years ago.”   By Michael Guerin

One of the men responsible for selling our elite yearlings at the up-coming sales loves the fact standardbred vendors are embracing technology to fill the void for potential buyers who can’t be there in person. And that has even extended to pre-sale endoscopic reports in what is a rarity for standardbred sales in this part of the world, which New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred’s James Jennings says is a very smart move. “Because the standardbreds are so clean winded 99 per cent of them come back great so the scoping is a really good move,” he offers. Endoscopic examination of the upper respiratory tract has been a common post-sale practice in thoroughbred sales since 1995 but even more common place these days are pre-sales examinations which are placed in a repository at the sales allowing vets to check horses airways for potential buyers before they bid. That and x-rays have become huge determinants of how thoroughbred yearlings sell but the harness racing industry has been far less demanding in those regards. Some would say, in the case of x-rays, that could be a good thing, some would say it is shooting in the dark. But in this new era when Australian buyers can’t be at the sales grounds because of travel restrictions, the more information vendors can supply the better and Jennings says three of the biggest preparers for the Karaka sale which starts at noon on Sunday have embraced that. “Woodlands, Breckon Farms and Logan Hollis and Shane Robertson have all taken pre-sale scopes and we think that is great,” says Jennings. “It provides even more info for potential buyers which might make them more comfortable, particularly if they are considering making a significant purchase. “And the real beauty of it is the standardbreds scope so well. 99.9 per cent of the time the scopes are great because as a breed they have big open airways and most of them scope as 1 or 2s (good airways with no expected breathing issues). “So we applaud vendors for doing it.” Logan Hollis, who prepares a very strong 15-horse draft for Karaka, says 13 of theirs have been scoped and it is just another level of professionalism as the standardbred industry tries to rise to the levels of the thoroughbred sales. “We had one owner who didn’t bother getting them done but we are happy to do them and provide buyers with some extra peace of mind,” says Hollis, who says he has his best ever draft. Jennings says vendors have excelled this year with the standards of their photos, video presentations and overall information for buyers, again crucial for the Australian market. “We have already had two of the biggest Australian buyers register and we expect plenty more.” One of those buyers, Jean Feiss, says she intends to buy New Zealand yearlings but as a very hands-on buyer she misses seeing them up close. “It is definitely different not being there,” laments Feiss. “You miss the atmosphere and knowing who you are bidding against as well as I usually see the horses at different stages in the months leading up to the sales. “So I really miss all that but I will be still looking to buy.” Jennings says for all the information available online for most yearlings going under the hammer next week, some buyers who can’t get to yearling tours and inspections have been going straight to the source. “A lot of people are using Facetime for real time inspections,” he explains. “I have been on the Southland yearling tour this week where there have been some stunning yearlings and a lot of people had their phones out and I thought they were videoing the horses. “But when you get closer you realise they are actually talking to somebody on Facetime and showing them the yearling at the same time. “So people are really embracing the technology which can only help come Sunday and next week.” The yearling parade for the Karaka sale starts at 1pm on Saturday with the first lot under the hammer at noon on Sunday before the sales heads to Canterbury on Monday.   By Michael Guerin

Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream could be sold as soon as this weekend. New Zealand’s best pacing mare is the centre of a huge offer from a US-based ownership group but current owner Jean Feiss says she will get through Friday night’s $100,000 Breeders Stakes at Addington before any decision is made. Amazing Dream is a $1.25 favourite to win that group one and add it to her magnificent Auckland Cup win of six weeks ago. But Feiss is entertaining an offer from North America that could see Amazing Dream head to the Ladyship Mile at Menangle next month over her way to a future race career in North America. “I haven’t decided yet,” says Feiss. “I’d be really sad to sell her but I don’t usually breed from my mares and if she does stay with me then I will retire her at the end of this season anyway. “But no decision will be made until after the weekend.” While the New Zealand open class season slows dramatically after the Easter Cup on April 3, Amazing Dream is one horse not affected by that so any perspective buyer would have numerous Australasian-based options before any US campaign. Not only could Amazing Dream head to the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle but she is eligible for the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Alexandra Park and would be an unbackable favourite for the four-year-old mares division of the Jewels at Cambridge.   by Michael Guerin

The King of the Cup says tonight’s $500,000 Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup isn’t the race it used to be. And seven-time winner Anthony Butt says that is actually a compliment. Butt’s remarkable dominance of the Hunter Cup started with a Blossom Lady double back in 1993 and ‘94, the second time off 30 metres in an era of pacing titans. Back then the Hunter Cup was a 3280m standing start, but eventually as the breed improved and times went ballistic, the Hunter Cup’s handicap nature meant some champions skipped the race. “It has always been a great race but over the years, as the game changed, either the standing start, the distance or the handicaps didn’t suit the occasional top horse,” Butt said. “But that suited us.” He speaks of he and brother Tim, who trained five of his Cup-winning drives. “The race used to be perfect for us New Zealanders because we had horses who had come through a hard summer of standing start staying races. “Now with the move to it being a mobile 2760m there is no reason for the absolute best horses to ever dodge it any more and that makes it harder to win. “You see that this week with Lochinvar Art and King Of Swing, the two best horses racing are in there off level marks with horses like Wolf Stride (trained by Butt), and that makes it a lot harder for us.” Yet Butt isn’t totally buying into the theory that Lochinvar Art punches through from the back row to eventually lead, which has fuelled his shortening into $1.30. “These types of races are rarely that easy, especially from the second line, but I do love the horse. He (Lochinvar Art) reminds me quite a bit of Blacks A Fake in that he has all the weapons.” Butt hopes some early pressure will bring his hope, Wolf Stride, into the race, but admits after a stellar rise his next campaign will be when he is at his best. Still, Butt and partner Sonya Smith are to be feared in any race at the moment, with 13 winners in 24 starts so far this year. “We are loving training in Victoria, we have so many options and I think it suits our style more,” he said. “And I think we have a really good chance in the (4YO) Bonanza (tonight) with Perfect Stride, so even if I don’t get another Cup tonight we can get a Group 1.”   by Michael Guerin

Brad Williamson has left no phone uncalled in his efforts to win tonight’s $300,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star at Tabcorp Park Melton. Which means, while the Kiwi reinsman may be in uncharted territory in the Group 1 heat-into-final mega night, he has plenty of treasured advice on how to get to the winner’s circle with Majestic Man about 10.30pm. Williamson drove his first Group 1 winner behind Majestic Man in the TAB V L Dullard Cup last Saturday, and the driver’s looking to add two more by winning both his Great Southern Star heat and final. He is also the caretaker trainer of the speed machine, with his father and regular trainer, Phil, stuck in New Zealand because of COVID travel restrictions. As well as ringing Dad for advice on how to back Majestic Man up for his 10.22pm final, just 150 minutes after his heat, Williamson has some serious knowledge to lean on. He is staying with former countryman Anthony Butt, who won the first Great Southern Star with Vulcan. His advice was simple. “I told him to keep the horse moving and make sure he drinks between heats,” Butt said. Williamson is also close friends with Auckland horseman Josh Dickie, who co-trained and drove Speeding Spur to win the Great Southern Star in the heat and final format. “I think the run you have in the heat and the final are crucial,” Dickie said. “If you can’t lead in the heat you need to get as easy a run as possible, while in the final you want to be on the marker pegs, because so many horses don’t back up for the second race. “When we won it with Speeding Spur I was three back on the inner and halfway down the back straight a lot of the horses around me were finished. They didn’t back up.” Williamson’s research hasn’t stopped there though, having also phoned Dexter Dunn, the Kiwi-born superstar of North American driving, who won the US premiership last season. Heat and final racing is far more prevalent in the US than Australasia. So, with a head full of knowledge and a horse blessed with gate speed, Williamson will head out for tonight’s second heat wanting to lead, hopeful the fact key rival Tornado Valley hasn’t raced for four months may reduce any bickering about that. “I don’t think we have to lead, but that is my plan and I am going to go hard at him early,” Williamson said. Once safely through to the final, Williamson won’t just need to water and walk Majestic Man, but also choose a barrier when his name is selected at the final draw. If those things don’t happen for Majestic Man it doesn’t mean he can’t win, but if they do, punters who took the $1.60 fixed this week will breathe a lot easier. So will Williamson and his phone-a-friends.   by Michael Guerin

Two of New Zealand's leading harness racing drivers face eight-week suspensions after failing blood alcohol tests at a Canterbury race meeting. Premiership leader Blair Orange and recent Group 1-winning trainer-driver Bob Butt both returned blood alcohol breathalyser results over racing's allowed limit at the Motukarara meeting in Canterbury on January 24. The pair were both tested before the races started and after being above the limit for harness drivers, which is lower than for drivers of a motor vehicle. Both were stood down from driving for the day. Both men have previously failed raceday blood alcohol tests on one previous occasion and have now been handed eight-week suspensions of their racing drivers' licences. Butt started his suspension this week while Orange starts his on Tuesday after his hearing today. The pair will also have to see a councillor specialising in alcohol problems. Orange is New Zealand's top harness racing driver and told the Herald he apologises to those inside the industry and punters. "I am very remorseful over what happened and will try and make amends," he said last night. "I went to two functions the night before and had a bit to drink and was home just after midnight, woke up feeling okay and went to work not thinking anything of it. "So I was surprised and disappointed to blow a positive test and I am looking forward to working through how I can deal with alcohol better." The suspension comes a few months after champion jockey Chris Johnson was also suspended for the same offence. He has since returned to racing and set a national record for wins with 2452.   by Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

A track work incident this morning has sidelined two of the Telfer team’s biggest chances at Alexandra Park tomorrow night but co-trainer Steve Telfer hopes for not long. Enjoy Me got herself in a tangle when feeling a bit too good during Thursday morning trackwork and kicked out, getting her hind legs over the sulky shafts. She has taken off some skin that will force the last-start Sires’ Stakes Championship winner to miss the first Nevele R Fillies heat at Alexandra Park tomorrow. “I don’t think it is serious and because she had had a trial and is quite fit, which was half the problem with her feeling too good, I think we can still make the Peter Breckon Memorial on February 26,” says Telfer, who trains in partnership with his sister Amanda. “If that is the case then she can definitely still make the Oaks (March 5) but we will know more on Monday.” Last-start winner Dance Time was also caught up in the incident as he was on the lead being jogged behind Enjoy Me and also lost some skin but is expected to be back racing soon. Telfer still has the favourite for the Nevele R heat with stable newcomer Darling Me drawn one and ready to win.   by Michael Guerin

In the lead-up to the NZB Standardbred national yearling sales we look at how the major studs are  approaching both Auckland (Feb 13 and 14) and Christchurch (Feb 15-17). In the first of the series Michael Guerin talks to Alabar's Graeme Henley.   Graeme Henley had a hunch last year that he is pretty certain he got right. But he hopes the proof comes on the first day of the National Yearling Sale at Karaka on Sunday week. As the boss of Alabar New Zealand, Henley has seen more yearling sales than most who will be walking the grounds next week but these days Alabar don’t have a huge draft of their own yearlings at Karaka. “It is just the way it has worked out, we sell the majority of our young ones at the weanling sale in May,” he explains. ‘“With the way the farm is set up and our staffing levels it makes sense and the weanling sale has been good to us, especially last May.” But last year Henley decided to retain five of the stud’s colts for next week’s yearling sale and he is thrilled he did. “We kept four colts by Always B Miki and one by Vincent,” says Henley. “I was confident Always B Miki would do a job with his first season two-year-olds in North America and they went amazingly well. “He was their best sire of two-year-olds and there were only three horses in the voting for two-year-old of the year and they were all by him. “So he has turned out to be a sire already better than we could have hoped for and that is why we kept these colts. “I think most people who head to the sales would realise that and clearly it has been reflected in his book as he served 200 mares in New Zealand and his limit in Australia. “So he is doing the job and they should sell well.” The four colts have the blood on the other side of their familes to help them too. One (Lot 9) is out of the smart mare Princess Arts, the next (Lot 54) is out of group one winner Yankee Dream, who is also already a successful broodmare. Lot 82 is out of nine-race winner Cougar Bromac while Lot 114 is out of seven-race winner Lady Dancer, a Christian Cullen half sister to Surprise Package. Henley and Alabar also retained a Vincent colt (Lot 58) from the hugely successful Alta family as he wanted to support the sale with the first yearlings of Vincent. “They are good looking horses and there are only a few at Karaka but quite a few more in the South Island sale. “They sold really well at the weanling sales and trainers like Mark Purdon have told me they are interested in them so I think he will get his chance as he has already had such good books.” Henley said with a smaller catalogue and so many high-class broodmares retained in the north he knows next week’s Karaka sale will be strong. “We have some big operations up here with some wonderful mares so there looks to be real depth at the sale.” The parade day for the Karaka sale is next Saturday February 13 with the actual sale the following day. The catalogue is available at www.nzbstandardbred.co.nz   by Michael Guerin

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