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Christianshavtime may have a good horse’s motor but it's his lack of gate speed that might make him vulnerable at Alexandra Park tonight. And that's why co-trainer Logan Hollis can’t declare him the one to beat in the $17,500 Bell Scaffolding Pace. Christianshavtime probably shouldn’t even be in the reckoning for favouritism for the main mobile pace tonight, being just a four-win horse giving away 30 rating points to Inter Dominion and Auckland Cup placegetters like Mach Shard and Triple Eight. But the combination of those horses having some form doubts and Christianshavtime blowing away far more highly-assessed horses like Tommy Lincoln and On The Cards last start suggest he can still win. Ever since he left maidens he has looked an open class horse in the making, one well capable of a 2:38 time over 2200m which will win you more races at Alexandra Park than it loses you. “We know he is pretty good,” says Hollis, who trains Christianshavtime with partner Shane Robertson. “He is a rarity for us, a horse good enough that we need to start planning his campaign six months out and working backwards from there. “His big aim is the Messenger in May so we will let him bypass the Auckland Cup this month because he has only won those four races after all but I think he showed last start he can run with some of the open class pacers.” Christianshavtime came from last in a four-horse field to beat the open class horses last start but the fact he often comes from so far back is the reason some punters will struggle to back him with confidence tonight. “He doesn’t have any gate speed which is why he races like that,” explains Hollis. “He never has had it so it means he needs the speed on in his races to win. “Take this week, he will get crossed out of the gate and if they walk and sprint he probably won’t be able to catch them but if they go hard he will get his chance.” While the December 31 Auckland Cup, with new sponsor Woodlands, will come around too quickly for Christianshavtime, three of the big names against him tonight are heading that way. Mach Shard, On The Cards and Triple Eight could all win tonight with peak efforts but their seasons have been a mixed bag, with Mach Shard the best of them so far this term having beaten Copy That and Belle Of Montana in the Spring Cup. Mach Shard and On The Cards have the gate speed to head forward and potentially lead-trail and in a race without many attackers it wouldn’t surprise to see either of them, particularly Mach Shard, get a winning break. Earlier in the night the Hollis/Roberston stable have Shezadeal stepping up sharply in grade in race one and a rare trotter in the stable in Asteria Lavra in race two. "She has the ability to win but she has real problems going away,” says Hollis. The stable is also looking forward to starting Luke John in the $200,000 NZBS Harness Million on New Years Eve as well as taking a draft of 15 to the Karaka yearling sales in February. One of the other clashes of tonight’s meeting is Italian Lad, who finally looks like fulfilling his potential up against high-class southern fillies Braeview Kelly and La Rosa in race three, with the older horse holding the advantage.

Trainer Todd Mitchell is going to Cambridge tonight hopeful rather than confident with what might be the best horse at the meeting. Cambridge host one of their biggest meetings of the season tonight, with the Dunstan-sponsored night attracting around 2000 guests for the club’s big pre-Christmas meeting before their mega Christmas Eve clash next week of Sundees Son, Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the Flying Mile Trot. Add to that the fact Self Assured could headline the club’s January 8 meeting in the Pacer’s Flying Mile and there are some exciting times ahead for the club. Tempering his excitement is local trainer Mitchell who isn’t sure what to make of his stable pacing star Lady Cherokee in tonight’s main pace. The best of Lady Cherokee is well above Cambridge Thursday night class, she won her first three starts before finishing seventh in Best Western Northern Oaks win at Alexandra Park in 2019. After a huge break away from the track she returned in September this year with the sort of mid-grade win that suggested she might be in the Queen Of Hearts last week rather than on her home track tonight. But her subsequent two starts have both been well below her best and left Mitchell scratching his head. “I couldn’t work out what was wrong with her and the vets have been right over here,” he told HRNZ. “So I have totally changed her work programme. She now does a lot of 3200m slow work and I took her to the workouts last weekend and she was okay. She also recovered better than she has been. “But I really don’t know what to expect this week. I know she would probably win at her best but I am hopeful.” Mitchell says the daughter of Sir Lincoln will need some degree of luck as she will probably settle midfield, with some gate speed drawn down low. “She can win but I couldn’t be tipping her.” The Mike Berger-trained pair of Eagle Watch and About Turn look the pair for Lady Cherokee to beat if she is going to return to anything like her best. Berger also looks to have one of the best placed horses of the night in All Yours who drops a long way back in grade in the last of the eight races, gets barrier two and an in-form Zac Butcher so looks one of the bets of the night.   By Michael Guerin

Harness racing fans have been handed an early Christmas present with the elite pacers surprisingly set to have an A$1million race to decide who is Australasia’s best. NSW harness officials confirmed yesterday the Miracle Mile set for Menangle outside Sydney on March 6 will be run for A$1million just months after they thought they may have to halve the stake. Already stakes in many key pacing races have been reduced due to the economic impact of Covid while the Inter Dominions which were to have been held in Sydney this month were delayed a year. But after better than expected results in recent month’s Menangle boss Bruce Christison confirmed yesterday the super sprint will break the seven-figure mark. “We are thrilled to be able to keep it at that level,” says Christison. And that will be enough not only to confirm the Miracle Mile as being worth almost twice as much as any other harness race in Australasia but to attract the best possible field. New Zealand and Australia’s best pacers have been segregated for much of the last year because of travel restrictions so the likes of Self Assured and Spankem haven’t been taking on Aussie heroes Lochinvar Art and King Of Swing. With the Miracle Mile stake confirmed and the New Zealand open class season tapering off dramatically after the Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve, the best Kiwi pacers have a very obvious target to aim for, with perhaps the main question being whether Copy That will now target the big money instead of staying home. Trainer Mark Purdon was already looking to take Self Assured and Spankem to the Miracle Mile carnival before he takes a step away from training in 2021 but he was also considering the Hunter Cup in Melbourne. But with the Menangle news the Miracle Mile that is certain to be the main focus of the glamour pacers. Lochnivar Art has emerged as the most exciting pacer in Australia since arch rival Ride High’s season was ended by leg issues but King Of Swing finished the season on a high by winning his third Grand Circuit race of 2020 in the A$175,000 Blacks A Fake in Brisbane on Saturday night. So all four could end up in the Miracle Mile, a race both King Of Swing (this year) and Spankem (2019) have won before. King Of Swing’s win on Saturday not only confirmed him as the Australian Grand Circuit champion for 2020 but capped a stunning weekend for his Waikato-based mare Twist And Twirl. She is also the dam of New Zealand’s best three-year-old pacing filly Bettor Twist who staged a remarkable performance to win the Woodlands Stud Caduceus Club Classic at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The exceptional filly looked beaten at the 400m but rallied hard late to down leader La Rosa in the style of an Oaks winner in waiting. Bettor Twist has won six of her nine starts starts and is rated a $1.35 by the TAB to make it another group one at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve. Mares leaving two separate group one winners in the same season is rare enough, two within 28 hours is special stuff. Sadly for owners Breckon Farms, Twist And Twirl lost her Bettors Delight colt born just two weeks ago, with the colt potentially one of the most valuable born in Australasia this harness season. But they will take an A Rocknroll Dance colt out of Twist And Twirl to the Karaka yearling sales in February. All of last Friday’s other key winners are now favourites with the TAB for their group ones and feature races coming up at Alexandra Park’s huge New Year’s Eve twilight meeting. Spankem is rated a a $2.80 chance for the Auckland Cup, American Dealer a $3.20 shot in the NZBS Harness Million while Sundees Son, who trotted a national record for 2200m sitting parked last Friday, is now $1.95 to win the National Trot.   by Michael Guerin

John Dunn’s coy smile tells the real story. Because you get the feeling deep down inside he thinks his superstar trotter Sundees Son is ready to defend the title of New Zealand’s best trotter. He sure looked ready when he nonchalantly sat parked outside Majestic Man to win the Lyell Creek Stakes at Alexandra Park on Friday night in national record time for the 2200m mobile. It was remarkable stuff as Dunn seemed to be uber confident Sundees Son could sit outside a very good rival and beat him, with most importantly Sundees Son handling Alexandra Park like a pro in his first start there in 19 months. That will be crucial come the National Trot on December 31 when the opposition goes up another level, as it will in the Flying Mile at Cambridge in December 24. Because that is when Sundees Son will meet the pretender to his crown Bolt For Brilliance for the first time. The latter was trotting similarly stunning sectionals winning his feature races at Alexandra Park in September and October and the pair going head to head twice in a week with Majestic Man to keep them honest could be the highlight of the entire northern summer. But ask Dunn if he thinks Sundees Son can sit parked outside Bolt For Brilliance as regularly as he does Majestic Man and he plays the politician. “It won’t be easy,” he says at first. “We know how good Bolt For Brilliance is….. but then again Majestic Man is a pretty good horse in front and we beat him easy enough.” The last statement suggests he thinks as good, maybe great as Bolt For Brilliance is, he is going to need to be something special to beat Sundees Son. He is right. Dunn says most encouragingly Sundees Son showed no signs of losing his gait, or even wobbling, around Alexandra Park’s tricky last bend at record speed so as in this form the home track advantage may not be a huge factor for Bolt For Brilliance. The latter goes to the workouts this week and trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is pleased with his progress. On a night of stunning wins the feature-race fireworks were started by American Dealer who blew past his rivals to win the Alabar Classic and seal favouritism for the NZBS Harness Millions on December 31. It was the first time he has been dominant coming from well off the speed and hard to please driver David Butcher was impressed. “He is just a lil pro and a lovely horse to drive,” says Butcher. “He just loves it out there, loves racing and cops it so well. “But that was big tonight. He has gone super.”   by Michael Guerin

Punters may have been stunned by Beyond Words beating our best mare in the Rosslands Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park on Friday night but the All Stars weren’t. The unheralded mare headlined a wonderful night for the soon to be greatly-altered stable in which they won four races, including the Woodlands Stud Caduceus Club Classic with Bettor Twist and the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup with Spankem. Neither of those wins were unexpected but they were both hard fought yet the win that shocked most was Beyond Words outstaying Amazing Dream in the Group One mares race. Having just her eighth start, Beyond Words got the lead off her stablemate mid-race as Mark Purdon, driving Amazing Dream, probably thought he would be able to outsprint her up the passing lane. But when Amazing Dream came up the passing lane the leader held her at bay to cap a remarkable first campaign that has seen her progress from maiden on August 7 to Group One winner. Callie’s Dream was a valuable third for her connections with a Group One placing next to her name now when she heads to the breeding barn. For winning driver and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen, Beyond Words’s win brought a sense of pride as much as surprise. “I did think Amazing Dream might run her down but we have always really liked this mare,” says Rasmussen. “When she was a two-year-old we thought she had the ability of Sweet On Me and Amazing Dream but she kept getting sore, which we later diagnosed as bruising in her bones because she was still maturing. “Her owner Brian West was really great through that period, always agreeing to give her more time when she needed it. “So to see her develop into such a good mare now makes us very proud.” So rapid has Beyond Words’s rise been Rasmussen sees no reason she couldn’t join Amazing Dream on a plane to Australia in the New Year to chase a Group One there and a super fast mile time around Menangle. Amazing Dream will first head to the Auckland Cup but her defeat cost her joint favouritism for that race in which she has drifted from $2.90 to $4. That was also due to what Spankem did 30 minutes later when he came from a 30m handicap to win the Franklin Cup, a victory that propelled him to $2.40 Auckland Cup favouritism. He had to sprint hard late as he was three back on the outer starting the 27-second last 400m and clawed his way past Thefixer, who was good from the one-one and Ashley Locaz, who did a huge job after sitting parked the last lap. Copy That was never a winning chance from last in the sprint home but made good ground in the last 200m and should be a different horse closer to the speed so his Cup chances are anything but over. But Spankem has emerged as clearly the horse to beat in the big one on December 31, having the manners and also developing an outstanding Alexandra Park big race record. “He went super because they only really sprinted that last 300m so he had to pick up some good horses,” says Rasmussen. With Self Assured confirmed as out of the Cup, the most likely additions to the race from those who didn’t start on Friday night is Classie Brigade, who has been nominated and could seal a start by winning the Green Mile at Methven on Sunday, while Triple Eight could also be a Cup starter. The All Stars other Group One winner was the magnificent Bettor Twist, whose never say die attitude saw her out scrap La Rosa after being off the bit at the 400m. It was a superb staying effort, something we are getting used to from Bettor Twist, but this performance was even a level above her Sires’ Stakes win of three starts ago. It capped a special week for driver Tim Williams who with wife Aimee Edmonds became parents for the second time on Wednesday with the birth of son No.2, Levi. “It has been an amazing week with Levi arriving and then that win was something special,” says Williams. “She tries so hard and never knows when to give up.” While La Rosa was brave in second and Darling Me and and Braeview Kelly later in the night also more than solid, it will take something special to out-tough Bettor Twist come the Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championship on December 31.   by Michael Guerin

Two of Alexandra Park’s long lost sons could dominate the open class features at tonight’s premier meeting but that may have to do that the hard way. Sundees Son (R4, No.6) and Spankem (R7, No.8) share the quite incredible record of both having not raced at Alexandra Park since May 3 last year when they each won Group One races. When Sundees Son blew away his Rowe Cup trotting rivals that night and Spankem held Turn It Up at bay in the Messenger it would seem extremely unlikely neither would return to Alexandra Park until tonight. But soreness issues which flared up for both during Cup week in Christchurch last year saw them sidelined for much of last season. They have come back as good as ever this season, in the case of Sundees Son maybe better, and their form line synergy continued when they were both able to win their first group ones in over a year on Show Day at Addington last month. That suggests they are the horses to beat in their respective open class group races tonight but both are likely to get back in their fields, especially Spankem off his 30m handicap in the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup. Winning major races off a back mark at Alexandra Park is never easy but Spankem is aided by the fact it is a smallish field and there are no horses off the 20m mark so if he steps well he could tag on to the 10m horses without too many traffic concerns. Trainer Mark Purdon was thrilled with how Spankem worked on Monday morning and while the likes of South Coast Arden, Tommy Lincoln, Check In and even Kango could contribute to a genuine tempo, over 2700m the back markers might still have too much class. Spankem isn’t the sole standout of them though as Copy That has been enormous on his home track this season even if he has looked more vulnerable when asked to come wide on the track over the last lap. The sectionals say he can be forgiven for his defeat last Friday but he will need to raise his game by a length or so tonight to suggest he is still in the top echelon of Auckland Cup hopes. Thefixer, who was a booming last-start second to Spankem in the NZ Free-For-All and Ashley Locaz add to the depth of the backmarkers team. While Sundees Son won’t be giving away a 30m start driver John Dunn is almost certain he will be spotting arch rival Majestic Man a decent start early in the Lonestar Lyell Creek. The 2200m mobile will be Sundees Son’s first start behind the mobile in over a season and while he has drawn inside Majestic Man, Dunn says he will take it easy and settle the favourite early. “I don’t like to bustle him so Majestic Man looks the leader but we have shown we can sit parked outside him and beat him,” says Dunn. While he has won only 3 of 10 starts at Alexandra Park many of those defeats were as an erratic younger horse whereas he has been stronger and safer for much of this season. “The way he is trotting I don’t think right-handed will bother him, after all he has won two huge races here before,” says Dunn. “So the track doesn’t concern me and he has been working at the beach up here, like he does at home, and that is a real advantage.” While the best horses in the race having to come from back suggest some real fireworks in the open class races, the $95,000 Queen Of Hearts might be the opposite with Amazing Dream likely to lead and win. That could make Enchantee a great place or even quinella bet as she has drawn barrier two and the only mare on the second line Smokinhotcheddar is on the unruly so there should be a huge gap for Enchantee early trail the favourite is Amazing Dream holds that lead. The clash of the three-year-old boys in the Alabar Classic is a beauty with early tempo the key while La Rosa comes north to take on Bettor Twist, with their lead battle crucial in their outcome.   By Michael Guerin - NZ Herald

Self Assured’s defence of the Auckland Trotting Cup hangs by a thread and even that could be cut today. Last month’s New Zealand Cup winner was the favourite to defend the Auckland Cup he won last December at Alexandra Park this New Year’s Eve but trainer Mark Purdon now fears he won’t get that chance. The five-year-old developed a corn on Saturday that means he will miss the Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup at Alexandra Park this Friday and Purdon will decide tomorrow whether Self Assured can resume normal work any time this week. If he can’t his Cup defence on December 31 will be over. “He is more likely to not be starting in the Auckland Cup right now than he is to be starting,” Purdon told the Herald. “The corn only came up on Saturday but the timing was bad because it means he misses this week’s race. “If, and it is a big if, I can start working him again soon then he could race at Alexandra Park on Friday week and then still make the Cup. “But if he can’t race there then obviously the Cup is gone because he hasn’t raced since the New Zealand Cup (November 10).” While Purdon has pulled off more than his share of training miracles before he looks up against it this time, especially as rushing into a hard 3200m on a light prep could undo Self Assured’s Australian campaign. Self Assured is being set long-term for the Miracle Mile at Menangle in March but if he misses the Auckland Cup the Hunter Cup at Melton in Victoria in February becomes an option on the way to Sydney, especially as Self Assured in owned in Victoria. But Auckland’s loss could also be Cambridge’s gain because if Self Assured misses the Cup the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 8 becomes a logical resumption point. News the double Cups winner is doubtful soon reached TAB bookies on Monday and Self Assured was replaced at the head of the Auckland Cup market by stablemates Spankem and Amazing Dream, who now share the top line at $2.90, ahead of Copy That at $3.20. Spankem will have his first Alexandra Park start in 19 months when he contests the Franklin Cup off a 30m handicap on Friday, with Purdon thrilled with his training on Monday morning. New Zealand Cup beaten favourite Copy That is also in the Franklin Cup, with trainer Ray Green expecting him to take improvement from his surprise defeat to stablemate Tommy Lincoln in the Summer Cup last Friday. There are likely to be 10 starters in the Franklin Cup and there may only be 11 in the Auckland Cup because while Triple Eight and Amazing Dream are likely to join those in Friday’s field come Cup time, Tommy Lincoln will not be asked to start over 3200m. “I think he is better sticking to the shorter trips at this stage” says Green. Amazing Dream will contest the Queen of Hearts this week against her own sex before stepping back into open class against the boys for the Auckland Cup but it is surprising she shares favouritism with Spankem when she has only had one open class start in this country. Spankem won’t be the only open class star returning to Alexandra Park after a 19-month break as Sundees Son is in the Lyell Creek Trot this Friday and he hasn’t raced in Auckland since winning the Rowe Cup on May 3 last year, the same night Spanken won the Messenger in his last Auckland start.   by Michael Guerin

It may not have been the most dynamic win of Amazing Dream’s career but it was perfect as far as trainer-driver Mark Purdon was concerned. The hot favourite led almost throughout to win the Caduceus Club Northern Breeders Stakes at Alexandra Park, with those who took the $1.30 odds feeling pretty good a long way from home. But while she never looked like being beaten it was somewhat surprising how close stablemate Beyond Words ran Amazing Dream late in the piece, with even Dina Brown not too far away in third after sitting parked. “She only went 2:45 for the 2200m so I think that brought the others closer to her,” said Purdon. “But that was exactly what she needed. She won, didn’t have to work too hard and can go on to next week. “And I am sure she will improve a lot with that run too.” Considering Amazing Dream has a group one next Friday and then the Auckland Cup before almost certainly heading to Australia, an easy kill was the perfect start to her northern campaign. “But we also shouldn’t under-rate Beyond Words. She is a pretty good mare and getting better all the time.” Considering she had taken time to adjust to right-handed in her preparation last week, the fact Beyond Words pushed her stablemate suggests she will herself end up winning a major mares race at some stage this season. The Breeders in some ways mirrored the other All Stars quinella of the night in the Sires’ Stakes heat when Bettor Twist led and looked to be under threat from Darling Me before holding her easily at the line. This time Purdon was driving the second horse and admits at the top of the straight he thought he might beat Bettor Twist. “But the winner was too strong at the line and she is our best filly at this stage. “And she is going to be even stronger over longer trips like when she gets to the Oaks.” Before then the three-year-old fillies have that Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve, which with the addition of the Mark Jones-trained pair of Braeview Kelly and La Rosa looks one of the races of the carnival.   by Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Mark Purdon admits he has concerns over the draws for some of his favoured runners as the Alexandra Park summer carnival kicks off tonight. But then there is Amazing Dream, who has the worst possible draw in one of the strongest races tonight and yet Purdon thinks it simply won’t matter. Purdon’s more hyped runners have copped tricky or just plain bad draws in all four races the All Stars runners contest tonight but he is still confident it won’t bother Amazing Dream in the Caduceus Club Breeders Stakes. “I know she has barrier eight but she has a few lengths on most of her rivals and there is only one horse on the second line,” says Purdon. “So she can afford to go out a bit at the start or pull back and either way get into the running line. “She is really well and class act so I still expect her to win.”It was actually quite surprising the TAB gave $1.30 in opening markets for Amazing Dream considering she is only $1.12 in futures markets to win a group one against similar opposition next week. Purdon does warn punters that stablemate Beyond Words, one of the big improvers of the mares’ ranks this season, is still getting used to training right-handed and may be better for her first Alexandra Park outing tonight. That suggests Dina Brown and the under-rated Callie’s Delight become the most likely trifecta mates for Amazing Dream. While there rightly seems little concern about Amazing Dream overcoming her draw, Purdon is not so confident with favourites Shan Noble (race two), Bettor Twist (race four) and to a lesser extent Aladdin (race eight). Shan Noble (barrier four) opened hot favourite for the Northern Three-Year-Old Stakes but Purdon says stablemate First Class (barrier two) is at least as good a chance. The pair raced each other at Addington last start and finished only a head apart but Shan Noble went into that race fit whereas First Class hadn’t raced since a dismal Auckland campaign in September. “They are both lovely horses but with the draw I think First Class could be first out and hard to beat so I’d just narrowly favour him,” says Purdon, his comment in stark contrast to the bookies assessment opening odds of $2 for Shan Noble and $8 for First Class. The stable have thought all along Bettor Twist was their best staying filly and she may be able to come sit parked and win race four, as she did two starts ago against a similar field. But again Purdon warns punters to be careful. “She looks like she is going to get the toughest run in the race and she may be vulnerable for that reason. “She can win but I think Darling Me should do less work and will be just as hard to beat while a filly like Shes No Lady could take some catching in front.” Purdon was initially reluctant to declare Aladdin the winner of race eight from his wide draw tonight but the field would seem to contain nothing of his raw class considering he sat parked to run third in the Sires’ Stakes Final last start. Tonight’s Summer Cup sees the return to Alexandra Park of Copy That, who hasn’t raced since his financially chaotic slow start in the New Zealand Cup. He looked in a need of a run when second to Kango, who starts in race three tonight, at the Pukekohe workouts last weekend but with natural improvement should be able to overcome his 20m handicap if he races up to anything like his spring form on this track.   By Michael Guerin

Superstar pacing mare Belle Of Montana’s season is over. And that means the multiple group one winner won’t be defending her Queen Of Hearts title at Alexandra Park on Friday week. Trainer Barry Purdon and owner Dean Shannon have decided to call it quits on this season, which promised so much, after the five-year-old was found to have some slight wear and tear in a knee after her brave last start third to Mach Shard and Copy That in the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on September 25. “We had her knee scoped after that and they flushed it out so we decided to give her a six-month break,” Purdon confirmed to HRNZ. “So the best thing to do it forget about this season and start again next year. “But I am confident she can come back to racing.” That will pave the way for Amazing Dream to be a hot favourite for next week’s Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park, especially with New Zealand’s other main open class mare Princess Tiffany not returning from Melbourne any time soon. While Belle Of Montana is sidelined Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan still have three potential Auckland Cup starters. Bad To The Bone steps in to open company in the Summer Cup at Alexandra Park this week and joins On The Cards. “It is a big step up for Bad To The Bone in coming week but he is entered for the Cup and we can decide on that closer to time after seeing how he goes in races like this Friday.” The stable’s Inter Dominion runner-up Mach Shard, who raced below his best in the south, is also on target for the Auckland Cup and will have his lead-up at Alexandra Park on December 18.   by Michael Guerin

The elongated pacing season has provided top northern harness trainer Steve Telfer with a rare opportunity. And he admits it is one he could get used to. Telfer could find himself in the rare situation of having the favourite for a $200,000 race come the end of next month with B D Joe in the NZBS Harness Million at Alexandra Park. The three-year-old pacer has been the big improver of his age group this spring, going from maiden to being beaten only a head in the group one Sires’ Stakes at Addington in the space of two months. That confirmed he is one of the best of his age and now his chances of winning the rich Sales Series race have improved enormously with not one but two of the big boys to miss the race. Both Krug and It’s All About Faith, the latter having beaten B D Joe at Addington, are going to miss the upcoming Auckland carnival and therefore the Harness Million. While trainers turning their backs on $200,000 races is unusual in this country the reality is both horses have come to end of brutal campaigns that have seen them up and down New Zealand racing each other every few weeks after coming back into work in winter. The hectic schedule came about because the two-year-old feature which would usually be run in May at Addington were changed to Alexandra Park in September so plenty of this three-year-old crop have needed a break. B D Joe had a week off after the Cup carnival in Christchurch and Telfer admits it is exciting to have a huge-race target without the imposing shadow of the All Stars elite and a horse like Krug hanging over it. “It doesn’t happen very often us other trainers having horses who might be favoured in a $200,000 race so it is exciting,” says Telfer. “We think a lot of this horse, he has come so far so quickly and we think we might be the best horses we have had (at Stonewall Stud). “He worked well on Saturday, will trial this Saturday and then race in the Alabar Classic on Friday week. “And he might even have another start after that before the Harness Million but for now he is big and strong.” Telfer will also have Triple Eight and Check In aimed at the Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve at an important time for the stable and breeding operation which has become such a major player in harness racing. “We are having a big open day for about 150 of our owners this Sunday to show them around the next stables we just finished so with that and the horses we have it is a pretty exciting time.”   by Michael Guerin

Harness fans are in for an early present this Christmas Eve. Because that is when Cambridge could be the surprise venue for the first clash of our two most exciting trotters. Trainer Tony Herlihy has confirmed that will be the next start for his excitement machine Bolt For Brilliance, who is back in work after a two week break. The four-year-old was sensational downing southern stars Cracker Hill and Ultimate Stride in the delayed Sales Series and Sires’ Stakes at Alexandra Park in October, breaking 55 seconds for his last 800m in the second of those two victories with a flat tyre. That had plenty suggesting he might be the best trotter in the country but then came the Dominion at Addington on Show Day and we all realised the title belongs to another horse until Bolt For Brilliance can beat him. Sundees Son was freakish bordering on arrogant in the Dominion, sitting parked to win in national record time, and now the two big names of New Zealand trotting are set to go head to head not once but twice. Cambridge will be the first venue, with Bolt For Brilliance to likely head their fresh for the Flying Mile on December 24 while Sundees Son will contest the $47,500 Lyell Creek at Alexandra Park on December 11. After Cambridge the two superstars will then clash again, all going well, a week later in the group one National Trot. Herlihy says the break Bolt For Brilliance had after his last-start stunner did him some good. “My fella had two weeks out and put on some weight,” said Herlihy. “He actually didn’t seem that tired even after those three big performances back to back, which is a good sign “But he enjoyed his break and is coming to hand nicely. “I’ll probably trial him a week before the Cambridge race, race there and then head to the National.” The Flying Mile will be Bolt For Brilliance’s first start at Cambridge since his debut when he finished second to Cheeky Babe when driven by Herlihy’s good mate Phil Williamson. He then raced three more times left-handed for two defeats before his sole left-handed win in the two-year-old Jewels at Addington. “He used to be not quite as good left-handed as he is at Alexandra Park but he is getting better and he does plenty of work at home left-handed,” says Herlihy. As tempting as the major races in Australia may be, Bolt For Brilliance will almost certainly stay in New Zealand this season. “With the travel restrictions I’d be very unlikely to head there and he has plenty of races back here, with races down south, the Rowe Cup carnival and even the Jewels.” Driver John Dunn says he is looking forward to taking on the younger contender to the trotting crown with Sundees Son. “I just hope we can keep him at his best up there,” Dunn says matter-of-factly. Sundees Son will headline a far smaller Dunn team for the north than punters may expect, with the stable’s open class pacers staying home. “Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert aren’t going up there for the Auckland Cup,” explains Dunn. “They have races here like the Green Mile, a free-for-all at Addington and the Central Otago Cup. “We have Need You Now up there already and she has the Queen of Hearts on Dec 11 and Sundees Son going up but a lot of our other better horses will stay home.”   by Michael Guerin

The days of consolation races look over for Luke John. And that means stepping up against the best three-year-olds around for the Christmas carnival at Alexandra Park next month. The son of Mach Three made it three wins in his last four starts with his most professional victory yet against older rivals at Alexandra Park on Friday night. He worked to the lead early for Tony Herlihy and had an in-form pacer in Jack Ryan covered around the home bend and won like a horse heading places. That means stepping into the big time, something he only just missed three starts ago. Luke John was an emergency for the Sales Series Pace, the delayed two-year-old version, won by Krug in September but won the consolation that night instead. Now as a horse set to be rated in the 60s band the days of consolations are over and that suits Shane Robertson, who not only owns a share in Luke John but trains him in partnership with Logan Hollis. “That is his big goal now, the three-year-old Sales Series Final on New Years Eve,” says Robertson. “He can head there via the Alabar Classic a couple of weeks earlier so he is up against the best ones now.” Robertson and his fellow owners have had some tasty offers for Luke John but he remains with them and their timing may well prove to be ideal. While races like the Sales Series and Alabar are always tough to win they may lack some of the biggest names this season after the delayed and elongated two-year-old divisions so exactly who of the Canterbury stars makes it north is still unsure. Regardless of what happens in December, Luke John looks to have a good future because staying looks more his forte so it would surprise to see him not in at least of the Derbys in the second half of the season. Whether he is the stable star for Robertson and Hollis will be a good battle in itself over the summer as they have Christianshavtime back at the workout on Saturday and he looks an open class horse in the making. “We think he will make his way there but maybe not next month,” says Robertson. “We we aren’t aiming him at the Auckland Cup this year, but those sort of races will be the plan all going well next season.”
 One horse who looks certain to be in that Auckland Cup is South Coast Arden, who made it three wins from four starters this season winning Friday’s main race off a 25m handicap. He was sent on a searching mid-race run by trainer-driver Brent Mangos and held out Dina Brown late, pacing 3:22 for the 2700m amended. With his only defeat this term having comes at the hooves of Copy That, South Coast Arden could take plenty of catching for any horses chasing him off handicaps over the Christmas carnival. The night’s other feature went to Sertorius in the main trot, making it back to back wins after sitting parked and outstaying stablemate Tricky Ric.   By Michael Guerin

The key to why Josh Dickie may be one of the big movers in the New Zealand training ranks could lie in what he won’t be doing with Inter Dominion champion Winterfell this summer. Which is racing him. And the racing Gods could repay Dickie for his impending patience with a group win of a different type this weekend regardless. After a brief but very successful partnership with his father John, Dickie is now out on his own account after his father took a step back from fulltime training. Josh has already had good success but his career looks set to go on a steep improvement curve as better horses start to come under his care. One of those is Inter Dominion Trotting champion Winterfell who has just joined the stable and while he has been a flop in the South Island this season, his right handed record last season made him trotter of the year. “It is a real privilege to get a Trotter of the Year given to you,” says Dickie. But rather than be too eager to show off his new toy, Dickie has decided to spell Winterfell for a month, the sort of patience few young trainers would have in a similar situation. “It is the right thing to do because his head is a bit all over the place at the moment. Both Mark (Purdon) and Regan (Todd) did their best to get him going left-handed down there but he doesn’t like it as much as right handed, which we all know. “So rather than keep going we will ease up on him and start again, aiming at the Rowe Cup.” Dickie won’t have to wait so long for his next shot at group one trotting glory though as he has Mexicana in the two-year-old trotting fillies Breeders Crown at Melton in Victoria tomorrow. With Anthony Butt driving and the filly drawn one she is the favourite. “She is a lovely filly also owned by Trevor (Casey, owner of Winterfell) so we are fingers crossed for Saturday night cause we love the Breeders Crown,” says Dickie, who had a remarkable strike rate at the Victorian series with his father. Dickie takes a small but smart team to Alexandra Park tonight but finds himself off a difficult handicap with talented mare Callie’s Delight (R7, No.6). She won well in a good field last Friday but is back on a 25m handicap over 2700m tonight standing right alongside the north’s most improved pacer South Coast Arden, who has been starring in open class. “I really like this mare but South Coast Arden has been flying so being back on 25m with him is hardly ideal,” says Dickie. Dickie fans could be better advised to go each way on Tricky Ric (R6, No.4) the race before in which the stable also has last-start winner Sertorius. “Sertorius won well last week but he goes back to 35m tonight because of that while Tricky Ric is only off 25m. They have been coming up together and there isn’t much between them so that makes Tricky Ric the better chance.” Both may struggle to hold back maker Credit Master at bay though, especially if the early tempo lets the Cambridge trotter into the race too easily.   by Michael Guerin

New Zealand's most successful ever horse racing stable is being disbanded in news that will stun the industry. All Stars Racing, the all-conquering harness racing stable of champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, will cease training from December 31. The pair remain together as a couple but has decided to take a year away from training horses and if and when they choose to return it will be on a much smaller scale than the huge operation they run at Rolleston on the outskirts of Christchurch. Their state of the art property will remain open but be run by current stable foreman Hayden Cullen and his wife Amanda, with Purdon and Rasmussen happy to help out around the times of the major carnivals if needed.   But the days of the All Stars machine which has dominated harness racing on both sides of the Tasman and is clearly one of the best in the world, are over. "It is time for a break," Purdon told the Herald. "Between us Nat and I have been training or working with horses almost 70 years combined," says Purdon who is 56. Rasmussen is 43. "We want to have a break, freshen up and take time to enjoy life next year. "And during that break we will take time to consider what our future looks like." Purdon says he will retain his race driving licence so he can still drive at major race meetings but Rasmussen is still considering whether she will. "Hayden is a good young trainer and we have made a commitment to him that at least initially we will drive the horses at major carnivals if needed. "We have told him we are happy to come help out leading in to these carnivals but the stables are going to be his with his wife Amanda's and the business will be theirs, definitely not ours.   "All Stars Racing will be closed down from December 31 and if we even come back to training full time I would say it would be a on a lot smaller scale. "But that is something we will think about during our year off." Purdon will take a team of elite horses to Australia for a small campaign in late summer to target major races there out of respect for their owners and the fact Cullen will be busy setting up his new business. Purdon and Rasmussen dominated the New Zealand Cup carnival at Addington last week, winning the New Zealand Cup for the sixth time the last seven years as well as three other group one races. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Their domination is like nothing ever seen in New Zealand racing before with the stable having broken every record there is in the harness industry. Purdon is bred to be a champion trainer, like his father Roy and brother Barry but since he went out on his own training in 1995 he has trained the winners of a staggering $58million in New Zealand alone while he has won most of Australia's richest races multiple times.   Rasmussen joined him as life and training partner in 2013 and the All Stars operation went up a level, with the Australian trainer having a relentless work ethic and organisational skills as well as being a wonderful big race driver. Their army of superstar pacers is too long to list but is headlined by Lazarus and in the last 12 months they have trained the winner of the New Zealand and Auckland Cups as well as the Inter Dominion Pacing and Trotting Finals. Winning normal group ones like Oaks and Derby races are so common they barely register. Purdon and Rasmussen told their staff of their decision to step away from the industry full time this morning and were pleased many of their owners not only support their move but say they will support Cullen in his new business from the All Stars property. But the change to the landscape of New Zealand harness racing will be enormous. The stable dominate betting markets and race days and well as the yearling sales. For many of their rivals their leaving will create opportunity and even renewed optimism about their chances to win at the highest level. And new faces winning the biggest race won't do New Zealand harness racing any harm.   Will Purdon, and even Rasmussen, eventually return to fulltime training? Probably. But will the juggernaut that is All Stars Racing ever re-start and conquer all in its path? Almost certainly not. So today's news is not just the end of an era, but the end of one of the greatest chapters in New Zealand racing history.   Michael Guerin Courtesy of New Zealand Herald

Spankem looms as the best bet in today’s $180,000 New Zealand Free-For-All because he has two ways to win the race. And one of those might make him a certainty. The Cup runner-up for the second year on Tuesday, Spankem will be the second favourite for today’s pacing group one at Addington with bookies and many punters thinking Amazing Dream deserves to be favourite with the very real chance she might trail potential leader Classie Brigade. But Spankem may actually be the better bet because he has two ways to win the race. Driver Natalie Rasmussen will undoubtedly push the button early with Spankem who was fast enough off the gate to lead and win a Miracle Mile last year. She is probably 50-50 to cross Classie Brigade in a replica of the start of last year’s race when they pair went at it head to head early with Classie Brigade holding the front and Spankem eventually having to sit parked, fading late as Chase Auckland used the passing lane to win. Of course Spankem doesn’t have to lead to win but if he gets the front it is hard to see him beaten. But punters willing to take the short odds about him also have the other option that if he can’t cross early it only takes one rival to also go forward and he gets the one-one, from where he is probably flip of the coin against Amazing Dream anyway. Whereas punters taking the $1.85 on offer for Amazing Dream are going to feel sick if, and it is a big IF, Classie Brigade does get crossed because she could be three back the inner in what is her open class debut in this country. So as good as the little mare with the low head carry is, Spankem might be the better percentage option for punters today. The Dunn vs Purdon-Rasmussen theme could also play out in today’s $40,000 Southern Mares Classic with Beyond Words drawn the ace but Dunn on Need You Now drawn barrier nine. Need You Now went within inches of not being eligible for today’s race when she pushed Amazing Dream close in the Nevele R Mares Final on Tuesday and while that was run in national record time Dunn says Need You Now have taken no harm from the run. “She was bouncing around the paddock like a mad thing on Wednesday so she is fine,” says Dunn. “I don’t think we need to blast across them from that wide and try and lead straight away but we will be going forward and she can win.”   by Michael Guerin

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