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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   by Michael Guerin

The man in harness racing’s hottest seat should finally start the dramatic new phase of his career in Group Two winning fashion at Addington. Hayden Cullen inherited the training of many of New Zealand’s best harness horses on New Years Day, when his former bosses Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen started a sabbatical from training, but with so many superstar horses comes pressure. Cullen had a luckless start to the new phase of his career (he has trained in partnership before) at Cambridge earlier this month but that was more working with horses at the end of campaigns for Purdon and Rasmussen. At Addington on Friday he starts campaigning horses he and his team have been training for a month and it should be a bright new dawn as he has last-start Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream in the $50,000 Garrards Premier Mares Championship. “She is ready to go,” says Cullen. “She trialled last week at Rangiora and while it wasn’t the strongest trial she pleased us. “I know this level of race is never easy to win but she should be good enough to overcome a wide draw.” Cullen says he rings Purdon two or three times a week and both Purdon and Rasmussen popped into the stable to drive trackwork this week. Purdon will drive Amazing Dream. “They came in and helped out and it was great to have them back,” said Cullen. “And while I expect and hope that can happen around some of the carnivals I realise it won’t be all that often. “So we have to run our own ship now and it seems to be going well.” Cullen says after what should be a winning start to the Addington era of his solo training career things will get more serious in coming weeks. “I have a couple of horses for next week and the week after we have Self Assured and a few of the big guns ready to go at Addingon.” The horse Amazing Dream beat in that December 31 Auckland Cup win, Spankem, returns to the stable this week after spending time on the water walker in the north. While the domestic focus for harness racing will be on Addington the Kiwi trotter chasing the most lucrative prize will be 3000kms away in Melbourne. Majestic Man is the only New Zealand-trained horse competing at the Night of Glory carnival in Melbourne, with Covid travel restrictions blunting the usual Kiwi attack. Young driver Brad Williamson has gone across to Australia to drive Majestic Man in both the A$50,000 Dullard Cup and next Friday’s Great Southern Star, which has returned to two A$50,000 heats and a $300,000 final on the same night format. Majestic Man should be able to use his blazing gate speed to lead and gives Williamson a great shot at his first career group one driving success. Courtesy of the New Zealand Herald.   by Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Barry Purdon is preferring to look forward rather than backwards with Mach Shard. Which is partially because he has no idea what to make of the former Inter Dominion Final runner-up’s dreadful failure at Cambridge last start. Mach Shard heads to the main pace at Alexandra Park tonight off the back of a career worst run when he sat in the trail behind Copy That in the Flying Mile but still dropped out to run last. “It was a shocker,” admits Purdon. “To sit where he did and finish that far behind them was poor from him and to be honest we have no idea why. “I was happy with him three starts ago when he ran second and then again in the Auckland Cup when he ran on well for sixth after being checked at the 400m. “But last start was a total mystery. His work has been really good since so it is just one of those runs you are better off turning the page on.” If punters can do that then they must give Mach Shard a chance in the main pace tonight because at his best he is up to winning this, with the obvious dangers on Triple Eight and Matt Damon. As is so often the case in small field sprint races at Alexandra Park the start and early tactics will be crucial because if one of the favourites gets the lead horses like Mach Shard and Triple Eight are not known as attackers so it may be a case of who dares wins. Matt Damon’s draw may give him the best hope of heading forward and controlling the race and he has been excellent in both his northern starts so may be the horse to beat. Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan have a strong hand throughout tonight’s programme including a representative in both juvenile races as the two-year-olds make a later than usual start to the season. They have expensive sales purchase Major Perry (R7, No.6) in the boy’s juvenile and homebred filly Artisan (R9, No.3) in the girls race and both look chances on recent trials form. “We like them both and while it is hard to tell with early season juveniles because you don’t know the opposition that well they should both be close up.” Purdon suggests Raven Banner (R4, No.7) will be one of the stable’s hardest to beat tonight after some brave performances in better fields at the Cup carnival that ended 2020 at Alexandra Park while Bettor Listen (R2, No.11) will win a maiden one day but faces a second line draw in a decent field tonight. Tonight’s meeting presents some interesting puzzles for punters, with many of the true Alexandra Park horses having not raced for three weeks, the unknown elements of the debutante juveniles and a couple of 2200m standing start handicap trots.   By Michael Guerin

The talent drain of New Zealand’s best pacers looks set to continue next week. Both New Zealand Cup placegetter Ashley Locaz and former Inter Dominion finalist On The Cards are both scheduled to fly to new stables in North America next week, news of their sales coming the day after last month’s group one winner Beyond Words was sold to the US. Barry Purdon has confirmed On The Cards has been sold and will join leading US trainer Ron Burke while Ashley Locaz is also at Purdon’s awaiting a flight to North America to join former NZ trainer Chris Ryder. They are likely to be joined by Queen Of Hearts winner Beyond Words, who passed a veterinary inspection this week and is also heading state-side. With Star Galleria now trained at Menangle in NSW the open class ranks are losing three or four regulars.   by Michael Guerin

One of the finds of the season has been sold to North America. And that means last month’s group one Queen of Hearts winner Beyond Words will almost certainly be scratched from Addington on Friday night and not race here again. The daughter of Art Major passed her vet examination on Wednesday and agent John Curtin is expecting money to arrive on Thursday to seal the deal that will see Beyond Words sold to United States-based owner Richard Poillucci, the man who raced former Kiwi-bred world champion Shartin. “It is a big money sale but she will do a super job up there,” Curtin told HRNZ. Beyond Words has been one of the stories of the harness racing season, emerging as an unheralded maiden on August 7 to win the hands of then co-trainer Mark Purdon before now likely ending her New Zealand career with five wins from nine starts including that Queen of Hearts over stablemate and subsequent Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream. That suggests she is a mare of rare talent and that didn’t surprise her co-trainers who always rated her highly but issues kept her away from the track until she was four. Beyond Words was set to have her first start for new trainer Hayden Cullen on Friday night at Addington but providing the money turns up she will be scratched. Owner and breeder Brian West admits he would have loved to keep Beyond Words but as a lifelong breeder he is being realistic. “I am 70 this year and I have to look at the future,” says West of Studholme Bloodstock. “I have had up to 100 mares here on the farm and I have been going through the process of re-homing some of them,” explains West. “Some of them are mares I haven’t even bred from or even raced because I simply have to cut numbers down. “I have got that down to around 60 mares here on the farm and I’d like to take that number down further to make it more manageable. “After all, I am not getting any younger and some nights I am not finishing with the horse until after 9pm and it is bloody tiring. “I am very proud of what she has achieved but if the sale goes through as expected then I hope she does a wonderful job for them up in the States.” With Beyond Words to be sold and Stylish Memphis likely heading to New South Wales for the Ladyship Mile, Amazing Dream will be red hot to dominate the remaining mares races for the season.   by Michael Guerin

After five years looking after some of harness racing’s most elite horses Matt Bowden says the time has come to go it alone. And the man known as “Poi” in the industry has already pulled off one surprise by setting up his base in Pukekohe. Bowden has taken a barn at the Pukekohe training track with room for 17 horses and it is an area he knows well. For much of the last five years Bowden has been the travelling foreman for All Stars training champs Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, taking horses all over Australia but spending plenty of time in South Auckland. So when the champion trainers stood down and Bowden decided to train in his own right he wanted to be based in Pukekohe. “I think long term Auckland is the place to be,” Bowden told HRNZ. “I have always really enjoyed it up here and like the area and while Alexandra Park has some challenges at the moment they are working through them so I want to be involved up here. “And it is close to the big studs and I’d love to be able to train some horses for them.” Bowden built a fine reputation working for the All Stars, with Mark Purdon often quoting Bowden’s assessment when talking about the work and condition of the elite horses. “I was lucky enough took work for Tim (Butt) and then Mark and Nat and they all taught me about professionalism and getting the little details right so that is what I am going to try and bring to training.” Bowden will be heading to the yearling sales next month looking to buy, buoyed by success in the ring in the past. “I used to have a bit of success there, buying cheap horses and turning them into good money but I obviously haven’t the last few years because I have always been traveling at sales time. “But I really want to get some nice horses to take through from the yearling sales to their race careers.” Bowden will also be available to pre-train and work up horses for other trainers, with Stonewall Stud already offering him work in that area. "The time is right for me to go out on my own and I have room for owners who want horses so I want to let people know because a few people have been asking what next for me. “So from February 1 I will be officially training and happy to go look at horses at the sales for anybody or take care of their horses after.”   by Michael Guerin

One of New Zealand’s best pacing mares is heading off-shore and trainer Mark Jones admits he doesn’t know when to expect her back. Jones is sending Stylish Memphis to Sydney to be trained by former Kiwi horseman Jack Trainor, who trains alongside Jason Grimson at Menangle. The plan was hatched when it became clear the All Stars runners Amazing Dream and Beyond Words were not heading across the Tasman, with trainer Hayden Cullen set to have no Aussie reps for the summer. “With Amazing Dream in particular not going the Sydney races like the Ladyship Mile become very attractive,” says Jones. “Not just because she won’t be there but because it also means she will be here and that makes the Addington mares races here so much harder, especially with Beyond Words also being here. “So Sydney is the best place for her and Jack had been hassling me for a while to send her over and now is the time.” It is not the first time Jones has sent Stylish Memphis to another trainer to maximise her potential, with Mark Purdon himself training the filly to win last season’s NSW Oaks after being a huge second in the Victoria Oaks. “It is about placing them where they are best suited and can make the most money,” explains Jones. “After those two mares races here at Addington she has no real mares opportunities until the Jewels and even that could mean taking on Amazing Dream again. “I don’t think we have enough good mares races here and after the two coming up she has to race the likes of Copy That and Self Assured. “Whereas at Menangle she has two A$50,000 mares races before the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile and then can races in mares races every second week.” While Jones and his owners are leaving the option of Stylish Memphis returning for the Jewels open she could also possibly head to North America. “That is another option for her because of all the mares races and the times she can get for her future broodmare career.” Stylish Memphis won’t be the only former Jones-trained good pacer plying her trade at Menangle soon, with Burnham Boy having already started his career there with a win two weeks ago after a two-third share in him was sold to big-time US owners Gordon Banks and Marc Hanover.   By Michael Guerin

Hayden Cullen's dream homecoming at Cambridge tonight night is being dampened by one small detail: he won't be there. The man taking over Australasia's most powerful harness racing stable is learning the realities of what that means — work always comes first. Cullen is now the trainer for almost all the horses which until last week were part of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's All Stars brand, with the pair taking a sabbatical from training. The 36-year-old now runs the most powerful stable in the industry even though to casual punters it will look much the same tomorrow night, with Cullen also taking over Purdon's famous colours and Purdon and Rasmussen both driving. But this is Cullen's team now and he has been in the north working them this week. Until today. "I have had to come back to Christchurch to work the babies because they are at an important stage and we need to look forward with them," he tells the Herald. "So while I looked after the horses up there this week, I won't be going to Cambridge. That is a little bit of a shame because it is my home track and I'd love to have been there but this is my job now, I have to look after the whole team and delegate staff to be where I can't." Cullen says it was a surreal feeling to see his name in the form guides next to Self Assured and Spankem. "This isn't usually how it usually works. When you start training it is often with a few maidens and unraced horses, not New Zealand Cup and Miracle Mile winners. I don't think it has sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a few weeks." So what does all this mean for punters? It would be unrealistic to think Cullen, or anybody else, could maintain the standards Purdon and Rasmussen have set so some horses might eventually see a dip in performance. But there is no proof of that yet and if things change that should take a while to show up. Cullen is a young man taking on a massive job and while he has been trained by the best as their foreman, he is still going to learn as he goes. Cullens keen to stamp their own mark But the reality is Spankem and Ashley Locaz raced in the Auckland Cup only eight days ago so would have taken little work this week leading into a mile race, while Cullen says he is happy with Self Assured, who hasn't raced since winning the New Zealand Cup because of a corn. "I worked him on Wednesday and he worked well," he says. "He is not carrying any extra weight and is ready to go but the draws make it tough for all of ours because it looks like Copy That will lead and that will make him very hard to beat." Spankem raced in the Auckland Cup eight days ago so would have taken little work (Trish Dunell Photo) The Flying Mile at Cambridge being what it is, with leaders so hard to catch at this level, Cullen's debut with three of New Zealand's best pacers could well end in defeat because the best version of Copy That might be unbeatable in front. But Cullen should get his first solo training victory — he has 62 in partnership with Brent Mangos between 2011 and 2014 — with Italian Lad (R8, No 11). "He has worked well and is fitter for his last start so he will be hard to beat." If he is right Cullen and his wife Amanda, who will help run the stable, can raise a glass for their first win in a unique chapter of New Zealand racing. And then tomorrow get straight back to work. FIVE HORSES TO BACK AT CAMBRIDGE 1. Son Of Patrick (R5, No 3): High drop in grade and has experience in mobile racing taking on the best 3yos at Addington last year. If he trots all the way he should win, as he did in his only previous start here. 2. Italian Lad (R8, No 11): Sat parked outside top 3yo B D Joe here last start and ran him close. Only here to get a penalty-free win before heading to Sydney. 3. Majestic Man (R7, No 6): Last time he raced in a sprint here he beat Sundees Son. Too short to back but Pick6 and multi anchor. 4. Hot And Treacherous (R11, No 7): Has been racing primarily in the elite 3yo pacing grade and falls into a perfect race. Almost another Pick6 anchor. 5. Santa Maria (R6, No 3): Latest outings at Alex Park have been in stronger maidens, has the gate speed to use her draw and the boss (trainer, Tony Herlihy) is on board. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The changes at the highest level of New Zealand harness racing have finally hit home to punters. But they take a fair bit of getting used to. The sabbatical being taken by champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen became real when the field for Friday's Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday was declared with Hayden Cullen as the new trainer for Self Assured, Spankem and Ashley Locaz. But what had a far more immediate impact was Purdon revealing to the Herald he will not travel to Australia this summer and any horses from what is now Cullen's barn who do cross the Tasman will go to caretaker trainers. Although Cullen is now in charge of what until last Friday was the All Stars Stable, Purdon was going to take the biggest guns to Australia for a possible inter-state campaign targeting races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. But with the re-emergence of Covid, in New South Wales in particular, and the closure of the state borders a full-scale Australian campaign has been ruled out. "I spoke to many of the owners today and it is just getting too hard and too uncertain," Purdon told the Herald. "Initially when we started talking about me taking some of what are now Hayden's horses to Australia for the best races, we would have been able to travel between Victoria and New South Wales like normal, which was crucial for them to race at both carnivals. "But we are not sure when that will open up again and then there is the question of quarantining on the way back home for me. "So a few of the owners are happy to leave the horses here while we have made other arrangements for those who still want to go." New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured and Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream, will stay home, returning south after Self Assured races at Cambridge on Friday. They were among the favourites for the Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile, Chariots Of Fire and Ladyship Mile. Spankem, a former Miracle Mile winner, will head to Sydney and join the Paul Fitzpatrick stable, with the intention he will be back to Cullen's care after the Miracle Mile on March 6. Ashley Locaz is likely to be flown to Victor Italian Lad may join the Craig Cross stable in Sydney. None of Cullen's three-year-olds will head to NSW for the derbies and Oaks there. The change of plans, while primarily caused by Covid, has still shaken up futures markets which were framed with the understanding Purdon would travel with the horses and effectively train them. So bookies and punters will now have to get used to markets which are no longer framed with the All Stars more often than not providing automatic favourites. Purdon and Rasmussen have taken most of this week off to give Cullen clean air as the new trainer but will drive Self Assured (Purdon) and Spanken (Rasmussen) in the Flying Mile at Cambridge. As good as the pair are, they face a huge task because with the preferential draw they have drawn the outside two barriers while Copy That, who has beaten them both before this season, gets barrier three on Friday. The night's other feature sees Majestic Man set to start a hot favourite in the 1700m sprint for trotters. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

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

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

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