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A private track work session with up to 20 big names involved has got Natalie Rasmussen suggesting a few horses to watch at Addington tonight. With partner Mark Purdon suspended Rasmussen takes the reins behind some of the best winning chances at Addington’s mega meeting tonight for trainer Hayden Cullen, who has been excelling since taking over the former All Stars barn in January. Rasmussen and Purdon have been involved as stable workers a few days a week lately and that included heading to Addington on Wednesday after poor weather in Canterbury left the training tracks at home soaked. While Bettor Twist will be Cullen’s best winning chance tonight with Rasmussen in the sulky, she said a few others impressed her enough to suggest they can win on Friday. “I tell you a horse who worked well and he actually worked with Bettor Twist was Oscar Bonavena,” says Rasmussen. “He strode out really well in the straight on Wednesday and I think in the small field this week he can be driven cold and sprint well. So I think he might go better this week.” Shan Noble is another who Rasmussen worked on Wednesday and expects to be hard to beat on Friday night as he resumes against stablemate Pace N Pride. “They are both going well but the draw suggests Shan Noble is Hayden’s best chance of that pair,” she offers. Rasmussen will have an interesting catch drive tonight in the Brent Mangos-trained South Coast Arden who was heavily backed yesterday from $4.40 opening quote into $2.30 last night and he threatens to wrest favouritism off the Cullen-trained Chase Auckland. “It is going to be really hard for Chase Auckland fresh up even though he is the best horse in the race,” says Rasmussen. “We have a lot of experience of horses coming back after long breaks and it is hard for them to win in their first few starts back. “Whereas the horse I am driving (South Coast Arden) has been staying at the stables and since I am driving him on Friday for Brent I drove him on Wednesday. “He is a really nice horse and I think he will be hard to beat.” But it is the $200,000 Harness Million for the two-year-old male pacers in which Rasmussen admits she doesn’t really know what to expect even though she knows many of the key contenders well. Rasmussen drives Franco Mac, who has the advantage of the ace draw and could end up following either stablemate Akuta or even northerner Montana D J. “It is so hard to work out this early in the season but I think maybe Akuta and Cosmic Major are the best of the two-year-olds right at the moment,” says Rasmussen. “But a horse like mine (Franco Mac) or Bollinger following him could surprise on the markers getting the soft run.”   by Michael Guerin

View the Addington harness racing fields click here! He may be one of New Zealand’s astute harness trainers but Tony Barron knows there is something missing from his CV and he hopes Lifes A Beach may be the horse to fill that gap. The exciting filly looks to make the most of a front line draw in tonight’s $120,000 Nevele R Fillies Final at Addington in which she comes up against Bettor Twist. The latter will start a hot favourite and was too good for Lifes A Beach when they last met here last month but tonight Barron’s filly could have the advantage and she has actually beaten the favourite before. Lifes A Beach is drawn to start from barrier five tonight, while Bettor Twist and fellow favoured fillies The Honey Queen and La Rosa all start on the second line. “I think that is a huge help to us,” says Barron. “My filly hasn’t had the opportunity to show much gate speed in the past because she hasn’t had the right draws but she has to go forward tonight to at least stay in front of those good fillies. “She will have the gate speed when needed because she used to fly the gate at the trials but we actually had to work on her to come back to us and relax more. “So she will go forward and maybe Bettor Twist will be good enough to come and beat us but we have to make a race of it.” Lifes A Beach was luckless when second to another race rival tonight in Bettor Talk Art when that filly won the Southland Oaks last start and she could also be a value play for place punters at least tonight as she also has a good draw. Even if Lifes A Beach can’t win tonight Barron knows he has the Oaks next week and then the Jewels so three cracks in a month at Group One glory. “I have never trained a group one winner and obviously I’d love to so she at least gives us a chance.” The biggest hurdle for Lifes A Beach over the coming weeks may be that while she has improved lately so too seems to have Bettor Twist. Already the best pacing filly in the country Bettor Twist seems to be hitting the line even harder in recent starts and may be on the verge of becoming a pacing superstar. Add in Bettor Talk Art, The Honey Queen, Off N Gone, Darling Me, La Rosa and the emerging Allamericanlover and it looks a wonderful crop to contest those three Group Ones over the next four weeks.   by Michael Guerin

The two major racing codes won't dip into their shares of a $5 million bonus payment from TAB NZ until next season but promise increasing stakes will be its primary use. TAB NZ announced the one-off $5m payment to be split among the three codes this week as they continue to have strong turnover results as well as reduced costs. The positive financial news for the industry gets even brighter, with indications a combination of TAB NZ's improved performances, the betting levy repeal and extra money earned from overseas betting agencies in betting information charges could see the returns to the industry grow by as much as $20m to $25m for next season. Last year, more than $139m was returned to the codes, that figure could be as high as $165m for next season. The TAB NZ returns on betting will be much more profitable than last season but last year's return to the codes was boosted by money from the Government rescue package. The heads of the thoroughbred and harness racing codes welcomed the payout forecasts and their share of the $5m immediate payment but say they will resist any temptation to immediately boost stakes. "We will include our share of the $5m, which will be about $2.7m, in our budgets for next season," says NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry. Thoroughbred racing gets around 54 per cent of the payment, harness just over 28 per cent and greyhound racing close to 18 per cent and those shares will be used to divide the $5m. But the exact percentages each will get from future TAB NZ distribution of profits is still being negotiated by the three codes, under the newly-formed Racing NZ. Even if thoroughbred racing's share doesn't increase, they can expect, including the latest payment, somewhere between $11m and maybe as high as $14m more to play with next season. Saundry says stakes are a priority for that money but it can't all go there. "We need cash reserves for a start, to give us cash flow to pay stakes and expenses throughout the season," he says. "We also want to spend money on track infrastructure, the funding of the clubs so they can perform their roles and education and training. "So we want to put money into all of those things but most importantly stakes. "We realise that is crucial and the board are all discussing how that will look." That discussion could include whether stake increases are across the board or more targeted at Saturday meetings and the industry's biggest days. "Stakes will definitely be going up and we hope to have an announcement on that maybe inside a month," says Saundry. Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Gary Woodham says creating cash reserves of a targeted $4.8m to get through any future tough times is a major goal for HRNZ. He says they are already halfway to that figure. "The fact we are building those reserves is very encouraging and we will continue to do so but our priority with the increased returns in the new season has to be stakes," says Woodham. "I want to see those increases be right across the board so the higher stakes go to everybody in the industry." Woodham is confident the negotiations between the codes about future percentages of industry profits are progressing fairly and that harness racing's share of the punting profit pie will remain similar.   By Michael Guerin

Alexandra Park harness racing results click here! Every yearling buyer dreams of their latest purchase eventually winning on debut. Tony Herlihy just didn’t think if that dream came true with Double Delight it would be in a trotting race. The two-year-old trotting filly showed great determination to win her first start at Alexandra Park on Friday night and while the result itself didn’t surprise Herlihy the type of race sure did. Because he paid $40,000 for Double Delight at the yearling sales last thinking he was buying a lovely pacing filly prospect by exciting pacing stallion Captaintreacherous yet Double Delight trots. Herlihy is surprised as anybody else. “I tried to break her in as a pacer about three times,” laughs the champion horseman. “But all she wanted to do was trot. She was even trotting inside the hopples. “So eventually gave up and we let her do what she wants to do and she does it pretty well.” Captaintreacherous was of course a champion pacer and Double Delight is his 14th winner bred in New Zealand, whether they have won here or in Australia, but his first trotting winner in this part of the world. “Obviously this isn’t what we expected but she has hardly put a foot wrong trotting so I am happy to be proved wrong,” says Herlihy. Double Delight is now qualified straight into the Jewels, leaping to fourth in the leaderboard after just one start. Herlihy will also have his more trotting-bred trotter Bolt For Brilliance at the Jewels, having given the four-year-old a few days off after his brave second to Sundees Son in last week’s Rowe Cup. “I was very happy with him, how couldn’t you be, trotting home in 55 seconds again so he is definitely going to the Jewels.” Herlihy made it a juvenile debutant double when Blameitonthenight was a dominant winner of the night’s pacing race while later in the night Melanion came from well back to win his debut to give The Iceman an ultra-rare debutantes treble on the night. After being allowed to find her feet early Blameitonthenight raced around to sit parked and recorded a 1:56.2 mile rate for the 1700m and she too now finds herself in the top 12 on the leader board for the two-year-old Diamond after just one start. Blameitonthenight is bred to win a Jewels, being by Bettors Delight from 2009 two-year-old Diamond winner Gotta Go Harmony, herself of a daughter of one of New Zealand’s great fillies in Elect To Live. Melanion is a three-year-old son of Bettors Delight and he also had to be good to win pacing 2:41.9 after getting well back in a disorganised race. While Herlihy trained a pacing-bred trotter to win among his treble on Friday night, the north’s top trainers of trotters had a rare pacing winner. Blitzembye lived up to trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett’s big opinion of him to storm home breaking 54.5 for his last 800m and if that official time is right he may well be a horse with a big future. He is the only pacer racing in the stable with 20 trotters and it was one of those, Majestic Princess, who won the very next race on debut to give the Wallis/Hackett stable a running double.   by Michael Guerin

View the Alexandra Park harness racing fields click here! The odd man out of Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett’s stable could end up being their best chance at Alexandra Park tonight. The beach trainers will take 10 horses to headquarters, which is nothing unusual in itself as they often provide valuable horse numbers to help fill out northern meetings. But tonight their team will include Blitzembye (R3, No.7). “We have about 20 trotters but he is the only pacer we have and we really like him,” says Wallis. It is not that the stable are strangers to training pacers and even very good ones as they prepared one of the most under-rated pacers of the last 20 years in Sly Flyin. “We would definitely take more pacers but we do probably prefer the trotters,” admits Wallis. Blitzembye actually resumed for the stable last Friday so the trotters won’t be totally dumbfounded by a set of hopples in the gear bag and he flashed home for second after being driven conservatively. He looks a five-win horse in the making who should thrive in the easier winter competition but tactics early and the tempo of the race could decide his chances from his tricky barrier. “He did a big job to win in the same prep as when he qualified last time so we expect him to be even better this time in.” The star of the trotting team tonight is Invictus although his natural racing style is not suited by his 35m handicap in race nine, the main trot of the night. “The 35m isn’t ideal but he can begin quickly. But it is hard to see him leading. “But away from the best trotters he is hard to beat, especially once he gets closer to the front line.” The Wallis/Hackett stable has three juvenile trotters in the second tote race for that crop in the north this season and Wallis says Faith In Manchester is their best hope. “She galloped last start at Cambridge but we think we have that sorted out,” she offers. They dominate race four tonight with four starters and suggest a roughie for punters, not a bad option in what is not the strongest maiden trot. “Cruise Control might not have the best form but he has ability and won well at the workouts last week so we think he has a real chance, particularly if he gets things right.” High In The Sky is rated an each way chance in race six where her manners could be handy in a capacity field which will make it hard on those who get too far back. The best pacer in show tonight is Sires’ Stakes winner America Dealer, who returns from a wide draw in the feature pace which is unusually the last race on the card. He is only using tonight’s race to get ready for the Jewels and then a Queensland campaign and he could settle last in the small field but he looked very ready when pacing his last 400m in 26.8 to easily beat some of these at the workouts last weekend so if presented at the right time he can still win.   by Michael Guerin

New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred saved the best for last at their harness racing weanling sale at Karaka on Monday. The equal two top lots of $36,000 each inside the final 15 minutes of a busy day capped a successful sale for the industry. An Art Major filly from Matuvutu sold to Beaufine Park and a Bettors Delight colt from five-race winner No Liability, purchased by Robert Dunn, shared the honours for the day as lots 124 and 130 of the 130-lot catalogue. They didn’t win that title by much with a Bettors Delight sister to Henry Hubert going for $33,000 early in the day to Trent Yesberg, while there were three other lots of $30,000 or above including the Father Patrick-Con Grazia filly, who was the sales top trotter at $30,000. While many of the top lots were purchased by New Zealand trainers there was strong Australian interest, particularly from Team Bonds in West Australia and Tumby Park in NSW (headed by Scott Whitton), best known for their successful string of horses carrying 'Ultimate' in their name. Weanlings being weanlings and the pinhooking market nowhere as developed or lucrative in harness racing as in thoroughbred racing, the sale was solid and left NZB Standardbred’s James Jennings happy. “The average is up, clearance was exceptional and it was a hard day for the pinhookers because the nice lots went for good money,” said Jennings. Especially pleasing for NZBS was so much activity on their online bidding platform, much obviously from Australia, which shows how comfortable buyers have become with it. “That was great, but it was also really good to see some of our Australian friends here and we can’t wait to welcome more back for the yearling sales next year,” Jennings said.   HRV - Michael Guerin

New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred saved the best for last at their weanling sale at Karaka on Monday. The equal two top lots of $36,000 each inside the final 15 minutes of a busy day capped a successful sale for the industry. An Art Major filly from Matuvutu sold to Beaufine Park and a Bettors Delight colt from five-race winner No Liability purchased by Robert Dunn shared the honours for the day as lots 124 and 130 of the 130-lot catalogue. They didn’t win that title by much with a Bettors Delight sister to Henry Hubert going for $33,000 early in the day to Trent Yesberg while there were three other lots of $30,000 or above including the Father Patrick-Con Grazia filly, who was the sales top trotter at $30,000. While many of the top lots were purchased by New Zealand trainers there was strong Australian interest, particularly from Team Bond in West Australia and Tumby Park in NSW (headed by Scott Whitton), best known for their successful string of horses carrying “Ultimate” in their name. Weanlings being weanlings and the pinhooking market nowhere as developed or lucrative in harness racing as it is for thoroughbred racing, the sale was solid and left NZB Standardbred’s James Jennings happy. “The average is up, clearance was exceptional and it was a hard day for the pinhookers because the nice lots went for good money,” said Jennings. Especially pleasing for NZBS was so much activity on their online bidding platform, much obviously from Australia, which shows how comfortable buyers have become with. “That was great but it was also really good to see some of our Australian friends here and we can’t wait to welcome more back for the yearling sales next year,” said Jennings.   by Michael Guerin

Copy That has it all to live up to now after joining one of pacing’s elite clubs at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The speed freak four-year-old added a group one staying race to his resume when he led throughout in the $95,000 Dawson Harford Messenger Championship from Bad To The Bone and Amazing Dream in a race that was almost a replica of last week’s Taylor Mile. Copy That won that too and therefore joins a list of modern greats in Spankem, Lazarus, Field Marshal and Christen Me as the other winners on both races in the last decade. Three of that list went on to win a Miracle Mile, while Lazarus won just about everything else so Copy That is now on the big boys list. Driver Maurice McKendry thinks Copy That can measure up to the company he finds himself in. “He is a very good horse, he has a good horse’s speed,” says McKendry. “But he was very strong in the Auckland Cup sitting parked too so I think he could be a Cups winner. “So he has it all in front of him.” Before he has to worry about all that Copy That, who recorded his 19th career success on Friday, will head to the Jewels and then possibly to Australia for The Rising Sun and maybe open class engagements in Queensland. But he adds a great dimension to our open class racing next season with his speed and love of front running, something he hinted at in races like the Flying Stakes at Ashburton and Flying Mile at Cambridge this season. Also adding to our open class stocks will be Bad To The Bone, who has come back from Australia a better pacer and has been enormous sitting parked outside Copy That when second the last two weeks. When you consider he had the Auckland Cup winner in Amazing Dream on his back and she couldn’t get past him on Friday, Bad To The Bone is a serious open class horse himself. While Amazing Dream wasn’t suited by the slow mid-race tempo of the Taylor Mile nothing seems to bother her stablemate True Fantasy, who was brilliant again in the $120,000 Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes Championship earlier on Friday. She came from near last over 1700m to down Suntan like a special juvenile filly in a crop that looks to have real depth. “She is a real Bettors Delight, every time she goes to the races she gets better,” says driver Natalie Rasmussen. “Not many can do what she did here the last two weeks and she is just so laid back and takes it all in. “But she is a very good filly.” It would be easy to think that with both fillies races in the last week being decided by such small margins there isn’t much between this crop and maybe there isn’t. But it would take a brave punter to bet against True Fantasy at the moment because it is hard to imagine her getting worse runs that she has at this carnival and she still wins.   By Michael Guerin

In reality the team behind Sundees Son and Five Wise Men would like to be putting them both in the paddock now. But while one of Friday night’s group one trotting winners at Alexandra Park in Sundees Son will head for his break, Five Wise Men still has another group one to conquer. Sundees Son confirmed the Trotter of the Year title with his fourth group one of the season in the $150,000 What The Hill Rowe Cup, bolting in after cruising to the lead in the early stages. He has been so dominant he has earned that right and once he led it was little more than a jog for the little horse with the massive motor. “It probably wasn’t the most exciting race to watch but this is the first time I have had a horse like this, a horse who gets the respect to lead and bolt in in a group one,” said driver John Dunn. He simply bolted in from Bolt For Brilliance, who was again superb running on from the one-one while Temporale ground his way into third, a place Majestic Man may have cost himself with his early gallop in the home straight. Sundees Son has been caretaker trained in the north by Craig Edmonds, who along with his daughter Aimee, also trains Five Wise Men so it is all a big Dunn-Edmonds mixed family affair. But Five Wise Men’s win was vastly different from Sundees Son’s as he was gawking around in front and let Time Up The Hill get to him in the straight before fighting the filly off. There is little doubt he is the best of this crop but he has plenty to learn and Aimee Edmonds admits they can’t wait to get the big son of Muscle Hill to the paddock. “But he has the Jewels to go and another lead-up race too,” says Edmonds. “He will definitely go to the Jewels but we are looking forward to giving him along break after because he is still learning so much. “But we are so proud of what he is doing.” Breeder and co-owner Ivan McNicholl got a thrill of a different kind after the race as the winning presentation was overseen by ATC president Rod Croon. "Rod and I played rugby together for Naenae in Wellington many many moons ago," laughs McNicholl. So to be here together all these years later means a lot to me."   by Michael Guerin

View the Alexandra Park harness racing fields click here! Trainer Ray Green has some advice for punters worried about Copy That’s staying stats heading into tonight’s $95,000 Messenger at Alexandra Park. “Go back and watch the Auckland Cup,” says Green. Because Green says Copy That’s massive third in that 3200m thriller on New Years Eve is the only proof punters should need that he will handle the 2700m mobile in tonight’s four-year-old Group One. Copy That is the hot favourite for the Messenger as he tries to complete a double with last week’s Taylor Mile that tends to lead to greatness for those special enough to achieve it. He led all the way last Friday and from barrier two is expected to assume control even easier tonight so the Messenger looks his to lose but any punter looking to get seriously involved in backing him might do a double take as his staying stats: one win in six career starts past 2400m. With his high cruising speed and short coupled frame Copy That probably is at his most potent sprinting but trainer Green says the Auckland Cup third behind Amazing Dream and Spankem after he was parked for much of the race leaves no doubts his stable star will stay. “That allayed any fears for me and should for anybody else,” says Green matter-of-factly. “He was great that night and he was also luckless in the Northern Derby last year over 2700m so I am not worried about that at all. “He has come through last week well and I think he will lead and be very hard to catch.” Copy That has actually won over 2700m from a standing start in a very quick time and had excuses in all his other longer distance defeats so as much as he has yet to totally prove himself as a big boy stayer deeper investigations of his stats suggest he can snare his second group one tonight. He should be aided by what appears to be a lack of pressure in the race. Bad To The Bone poured in on last week over a mile but it would surprise to see him try that over 2700m. So if Copy That can get to the 800m mark having only run even, solid sectionals not only should be be able to whizz home in 55 seconds but his greatest danger, Amazing Dream, will not have had the tempo needed to finish over top of him. Having won both that Northern Derby and Auckland Cup, Amazing Dream is the logical danger if things do get hectic tonight and her male rivals come back to her but she is not really a mare who can do that bullying herself and expect to win at this level. While Copy That will be looking to make a lie of his staying stats in the Messenger, Sundees Son should continue on his way as a staying freak in the $150,000 What The Hill Rowe Cup. He has only had two starts over 3200m and won them both, this race two years ago and the Dominion at Addington in November and he thrives on distance racing, whether driven aggressively with a sit. It would be easy to be concerned by him drawing barrier one at the busy 3200m start but he has actually started from barrier one in standing starts four times in the last 18 months and stepped away beautifully every time. “I am not worried about the barrier,” says driver John Dunn. “He is never super fast away but I am confident he will step away with them and be handy enough.” Aiding Sundees Son is the fact only six horses start off the front line, the other four on the unruly, so he shouldn’t have to stand too long after coming into line first. If he trots squarely throughout he should win but if he does make a mistake then Bolt For Brilliance in the obvious danger while Majestic Man should improve lengths on last week and is likely to be one of the first away of the favourites. Temporale looks the best place value as a good standing start horse and former winner of this race.   by Michael Guerin

View the harness racing fields for Friday night at Alexandra Park. At first glance the three favourites for the glamour races of Rowe Cup night at Alexandra Park appear to have been handed the perfect draws to continue their dominance of the carnival. But when it comes to trotters Sundees Son and Five Wise Men those looks may be deceiving. Copy That in the Taylor Mile, Sundees Son in the Anzac Cup and Five Wise Men (Sires Stakes) all won their major assignments last Friday night and will be hot favourites to do so in group ones this Friday, Alexandra Park’s biggest night meeting of the season. Copy That has drawn barrier two in the $95,000 Dawson Harford Messenger and looks certain to lead and take a power of beating again. Even though Bad To The Bone got very close to Copy That last Friday he was coming off a strong diet of mile racing at Menangle and was super but Copy That and he beat the rest easily enough. So if he lands in front again, as it looks almost certain, then it it going to take some intense mid-race pressure and maybe an Amazing Dream (barrier four) special to down Copy That. Punters might feel the same way when they initially see Sundees Son drawn the ace in the Rowe Cup, especially after his thumping win in the Anzac Cup last Friday. If Sundees Son can step to the lead or even stay handy in the first three or four then he should defend the What The Hill Rowe Cup title he won in 2019 (the race was not held last season) but few trainers like barrier one in 3200m standing start races. Often, as we saw in this season’s controversial New Zealand Cup, the horses who come into line first for inside draws in standing start races can get left flat when those wider on the track come up later and can have momentum. It happens less in the North Island where oddly, considering they have less standing starts, they seem to run more smoothly than in Canterbury. Aiding Sundees Son as he tries to beat the curse of barrier 1 in a major 3200m group one is the fact there are only six others runners on the front line, with the remaining four starters on the unruly. That should, and when you are talking about standing starts should is always they key word, mean Sundees Son and those drawn inside don’t have to stand around for too long and even if he is a touch slow he won’t have a dozen horses in front of him because it is only a small field. Still, punters wanting to take odds-on about him will have the right to be nervous in the seconds before the standing start tapes ping. Five Wise Men could also be odds-on in the Breckon Farms Trotting Derby as barrier four looks almost ideal over the 2700m, especially as he handled his Alexandra Park debut like a pro last week. But drawn directly inside him is speedster Leaf Stride, who has been luckless in his last two starts behind Five Wise Men and his trainer Phil Williamson wanted a front line draw this week to use his gate speed. He has got that and the tactics his team decide on if he does lead could decide the race. The group one winner from last Friday facing the greatest test is juvenile pacing filly True Fantasy who has drawn the outside of the second line in the Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes, which could be extremely difficult to overcome over 1700m.   by Michael Guerin

Alexandra Park will be re-surfaced this week to save a repeat of the sub-standard track conditions that dogged last Friday's premier meeting. Many drivers were left annoyed by the extremely sloppy track conditions for last week's Taylor Mile meeting that one senior driver called "as bad as the track has ever been." A downpour before the opening race last Friday left the track beach-like and drivers complained of not being able to see as most returned after races with their faces caked in wet mud. Auckland Trotting Club vice president Jamie MacKinnon admits the track was less than perfect but says staff were caught out by the severity of the pre-race downpour. "The track was conditioned on Thursday to soften it up and provide enough top," explains MacKinnon. "Then our crew checked the rain radar on Friday around 2pm and while some rain for forecast nothing like the deluge that we got. "So with the track having the top needed to provide cushion for good weather once it rained that hard it got too sloppy. "We admit that and it was just a case of the weather turning and the track not being prepared for that eventuality. But we couldn't see that coming, it was just bad luck." Alexandra Park is usually one of the best wet-weather tracks in the country because much of the surface is shell so the water runs off in to the inside, especially as the track is well cambered. Club officials considered re-topping it with new shell last week but thought it was good enough to race on but that work will now be completed this week before Friday night's Rowe Cup meeting, Alexandra Park's biggest night meeting of the season. "We are not trying to hide from it, the track wasn't good enough last week but it will be better this Friday," says MacKinnon. While the excessive kick back of wet surface may have been less than ideal the times were still quick for most of the night and it didn't seem to greatly effect the results. Of the 10 winners four led, which is less than would usually be expected for a premier meeting, even though increased kick back would seem to favour leaders. Of the other six winners two came up the passing lane, two from off the markers in midfield and the other two won coming wide from near last. Considering most premier harness meetings are dominated by the horses on the speed, the differing positions the winners came from suggested fair, if uncomfortable, racing. One trainer hoping not just the track improves between the two Fridays but also his stable star is Phil Williamson with Majestic Man. The speedster led but buckled in the Anzac Cup won by his arch-rival Sundees Son and Williamson says he was caught off guard. "It was a tricky prep because he came back from Australia in March after a very busty schedule there and he need a quick break," Williamson explains. "But that meant we couldn't get a trial into him before Friday and he just blew out. "I am sure he will be a lot harder to beat in the Rowe Cup this week but in saying that he hasn't been quite as successful over 3200m as the sprint trips. "So I think he can run a place but they might all struggle to handle Sundees Son." But Williamson thinks he can claim group one glory this Friday with Leaf Stride in the Northern Trotting Derby if the three-year-old can draw to lead. Fields for the huge premier meeting will be confirmed late Tuesday afternoon.   By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand’s most exciting young trotter is relying on a friend in high places to help him overcome the Alexandra Park hoodoo that affects so many first-time visitors. Five Wise Men makes his Alexandra Park debut in $62,500 Lone Star Sires’ Stakes Trot tomorrow night and after five straight wins including the NZ Trotting Derby he is on-odds to win again. But Alexandra Park, the only right-handed major harness venue in Australasia, can present a tough challenge for newcomers, especially young trotters who are often still working out which legs goes where under pressure. To add to that pressure Five Wise Men has drawn the outside of the front line tomorrow night which means he almost certainly won’t be able to quickly find the comfort of the marker pegs and that usually increases the chances of newcomers hanging, particularly under pressure around the final bend. Co-trainer Craig Edmonds isn’t too concerned though and has even moved his usual northern base to give Five Wise Men valuable right-handed experience. Edmonds is also caretaker trainer for superstar trotter Sundees Son in the north and when he brought him up over the summer they stayed out at a beach property but this trip they are staying at the Pukekohe track so Sundees Son can help guide Five Wise Men around that track. “I have paired them up at the track and only take Sundees Son to the beach on fast work days,” says Edmonds. “That means I have been able to work Five Wise Men a bit right-handed on the Pukekohe track and he seems to be handling it fine. “We weren’t so much worried as unsure because he had only been worked right-handed once in his life before coming up here but I think if he can handle Pukekohe he will handle Alexandra Park.” While Five Wise Men can look rocky in his gait and over-race Edmonds say he is actually clean gaited so that is unlikely to be the problem in tomorrow’s group two. “He can hang in a bit this way around so we have put a (boring) pole on him to help with that. “I think he will be okay this week but I expect him to be better next week after a run here and with the Derby distance suiting better.” Sundees Son is favourite for the $95,000 Anzac Cup, a race he won in dazzling style two years ago, even after being beaten in both starts this campaign. “I think he will be fitter for those two runs at Addington and he worked well before coming up here so he will be hard.” Sundees Son meets the hottest field of the New Zealand trotting season with old rivals Majestic Man and Temporale joined by young star Bolt For Brilliance and Oscar Bonavena. Five Wise Men opened the $1.95 favourite for his race and Sundees Son at $2.40 for his, with both to be driven by Edmonds’s son-in-law John Dunn. Copy That was the $2.10 opening quote favourite for tomorrow night’s Taylor Mile but was quickly backed into $1.85, well inside Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream who has drifted to $2.9.   by Michael Guerin

It has taken less than a minute for Copy That to allay any fears about his fitness heading into the $95,000 Taylor Mile at Alexandra Park’s star-studded meeting this Friday. Copy That is in the conversation with Self Assured and Amazing Dream for the title of New Zealand’s best pacer but he looked anything but at the Pukekohe workouts 10 days ago when he was beaten by a three-year-old filly in a two-horse trial. That convinced trainer Ray Green his stable star needed a proper hit out at the corresponding workouts last Saturday to make sure he was physically and mentally up for the challenge of taking on Amazing Dream in the super sprint this Friday. He did that and more with one of the most impressive workout wins seen at Pukekohe in years, coming from last to put five lengths on decent opponents Dance Time and Need You Now. That would have been impressive enough but the fact Copy That was able to roar over his last 800m in 55.2 seconds, the last 400m in 26.8 showed he was both fitter and more mentally dialled in than his weak effort the previous workout. “We thought he was taking it all a bit casual last week so we gave him a bit more of a rev up this time,” said champion driver Maurice McKendry. “He felt far more awake and really good at the line and that will really help open his lungs up for this week. “He is definitely ready now.”  The sizzling workout wasn’t the only good news for Copy That’s team heading into Friday night’s Mile as he drew barrier five, which while hardly perfect is inside key rival Amazing Dream at barrier six. He already has superior gate speed to the mare but the draws suggest he is certain to settle in front of her and have more options so he will start favourite. The Mile has seen many reincarnations over the years, first as a mile for four-year-olds, then a 1700m for four and five-year-olds but back to its original conditions it has drawn an excellent field of pacers who already are open class stars or others heading that way. One of the more interesting runners is Bad To The Bone, who is back from Australia where he won four of seven starts at Menangle including a group three and paced a 1:50.5 mile. Drawn barrier two he and Christianshavtime add the x-factor challenge for the open class favourites. He isn’t the only last-start winner returning from Australia for Friday’s huge meeting with Majestic Man back for the Anzac Cup after winning three Group One trots in Australia over summer. He has an incredibly helpful ace draw in the 2200m Group One trot from where he should lead and be hard for the likes of Sundees Son, Bolt For Brilliance and Oscar Bonavena to catch. But trainer Phil Williamson does have words of warning for punters who expect the charging version of Majestic Man that was so potent in Australia to turn up at Alexandra Park on Friday night. “He is well but we haven’t trialed him since he got home (last month),” explains Williamson. “His coat is just starting to turn, he is still to look a bit woolly compared with the summer which is hardly surprising going from Sydney to Oamaru. “So he is well and I think he will go good but Sundees Son and even Bolt For Brilliance have been too good for him in the past quite often.” The 10-race meeting also features the Woodlands Stud Caduceus Classic and the Group Two Sires’ Stakes Trot.   by Michael Guerin

Tony Herlihy can’t win the race named in his honour at Alexandra Park on Friday night but he can win a few others. The champion horseman will have his feat of training 1000 domestic winners recognised in the $17,500 sixth event tonight, the Congratulations Tony Herlihy 1000 Training Wins Mobile. Ironically, Herlihy has neither a stable rep or even a drive in the race but not for any official reason. “I didn’t even know it was going ahead until Karen (Blanchard, ATC racing manager) told me on Tuesday,” says Herlihy. “It is a nice thing for the club to do and I have had a lot of great feedback from people since the milestone.” That was when Lord Verde won at Alexandra Park on March 26, making Herlihy the ninth member of the 1000-winners trained domestically club. While he can’t win his race, Herlihy has one of the favourites in Mr Kaplan in the second northern heat of the two-year-old fillies Sires’ Stakes, which will be a clear highlight of tonight’s meeting. While Mr Kaplan was dominant winning the Delightful Lady at Alexandra Park on March 5 she was beaten by the Purdon/Phelan pair of Montana Glory and Montana Miki in the first northern heat of this series, won stunningly by Montana Glory. Tonight’s field is even stronger with talented southerners Play Philly, Suntan and Cover Girl, who was excellent at the trials last weekend, joining the fray and another Purdon/Phelan starter in Artisan also having a touch of class. “It is a really good field for fillies at this stage of the season but my filly is very tough so she will be hard to beat,” says Herlihy. On a night where he has few drives Herlihy rates stable rep Forget The Price Tag an each way chance in the main trot. “As a younger horse we thought he would go right to the top but he broke a pedal bone and was off the scene for a year and he really didn’t come back last campaign. “But he has been good so far this time and this looks a nice race for him.” Perhaps Herlihy’s best chance comes early in race two with I See Fire if he can behave himself from barrier one. The talented three-year-old trotter beat the older horses at Cambridge last start and after some recent work on his back trotted well at the workouts last week. “He seems really well and provided he behaves himself he has to be hard to beat.” Meanwhile, Herlihy says stable star Bolt For Brilliance will race in the Anzac Cup next Friday even after disappointing slightly when only third in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All last Friday. “He wasn’t quite as sharp as the start before but hopefully the trip has bought him on more.”   by Michael Guerin

Scott Phelan knows Major Perry’s win at Cambridge on Thursday night means more than just a spot in next month’s Sires’ Stakes Final. He knows he means the plan of training partner Barry Purdon is working. Phelan drove the speedy son of Art Major and Katy Perry to the juvenile’s first career victory in the Sires’ Stakes heat and he looked the winner a long way from home. Major Perry, who had been luckless so far in his career, dived straight on to the back of stablemate Montana D J at the 1700m start and was in the box seat when Classy Operator keep the pressure on the leader throughout. That saw Classy Operator first beaten from parked and Montana D J in trouble at the top of the straight as Major Perry went straight past him up the passing lane before holding out the very strong late charge of debutante Strength And Honour. The runner-up was every bit as good as the winner and the upside down nature of the race, with a 1:55.6 mile rate for 1700m even though the last 800m was in a pedestrian 59.8 seconds, also means Montana D J lost few fans. But while the margin was only a neck Phelan says that is more from Major Perry shutting off when he hit the lead rather than him getting tired. “He is very fast and just got there too soon and shut off but the second horse must have gone well too,” said Phelan. “But this horse is still learning. Once I got that trip behind that sort of speed he was always going to be hard to beat. “He is the speedster of the two whereas Montana D J is probably the better stayer.” With both horses safely into the Sires’ Stakes Final now they have their goals set for next month while the Purdon/Phelan stable also has three high class juveniles fillies in the Sires’ Stakes Fillies heat at Alexandra Park on Friday night. “It is great to have so many young horses in the team,” says Phelan. “Obviously it is not an easy thing to achieve and Barry has done such a great job getting most of them from the sales and that is what owners usually want, horses who can race for that big money at two.” The stable clearly has plenty of those in their around 30 horses in work, with three of those talented young juveniles owned by Queensland-based Dean Shannon. “Dean is a great owner, you never ever hear him complain and he has got some lovely horses.” The best of them, Belle Of Montana, is due back into work on June 1 after a long spell with indication she is healthy and happy and ready to start a new campaign.   by Michael Guerin

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