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What Makes News? For some time now I have given up watching mainstream television, mainly because I can't handle the countless mind-numbing reality shows, and the news is full of petty bickering and points scoring between politicians who should know better (Election year hasn't helped that!). My spies tell me that the potentially horrific smash at Westport last week was shown on the News (not sure which channel) making it obvious that the general media is only interested in harness racing when there is a crash, or some form of drug related sensation. Thankfully that doesn't happen very often so that coverage is minimal. The only other recent positive coverage was Zac Butchers' wonderful display of showmanship on beating his dad in the Drivers' premiership eighteen months ago. Got me thinking though, if the mainstream channels want sensationalism, why not give it to them. A reality show featuring nasty harness racing crashes? Obviously permission would need to be granted by the people involved in the incidents, but it would surely rate higher than "Outer Mongolias' Ugliest Bodies" or "What I found In My Great Uncles Garage", or some of the other drivel currently on offer! You know the old saying, any publicity etc., etc. Maybe sponsorship could be gained from a manufacturer of safety gear? While on the subject of Westport, it is slightly sad to see that the Club, renowned for being both forward thinking and extremely hospitable, refuses to acknowledge the need for a passing lane at Patterson Park. Using the Stipes' Report from last Friday as a guide, there were a total of 26 horses who were ‘denied clear racing room' in the straight. When I broached this with a Club official, I received a similar response that I probably would have given myself about 10 years ago - that there is still (usually) only one winner in each race. While that is difficult to argue with, one of the suggestions put forward was that punters needed to back drivers who didn't drive for luck, and moaned when they were unlucky. That argument tends to collapse when the drivers on some of those denied a run the other day included Jim Curtin, Robbie Holmes, Pete Davis and Gavin Smith, all of whom are virtual stalwarts of West Coast harness racing. The problem is that for every one of those 26 horses denied a run, there are dozens of disgruntled punters (aka customers) with a nasty taste in their mouth. Yes I admit, I had that taste four times during the day! Come on Westport, move with the times on this one, and move a few marker pegs. Northern Branch February 2014 The Associations' Northern Branch recently met to discuss the latest issues facing that area, and began by giving a vote of support to Northern starter Frank Phelan. Those present acknowledged, however, that all starters should come under scrutiny as part of the job and, on occasions could do things better. (As an aside to this topic, the Association received a communication from Mr Brian Macey, the owner of Prime Power, who was singled out for criticism in a recent article on standing starts. Brian agreed with Paul Nairns' comments concerning poorly behaved horses from standing starts, and reported that his horse had recently been given intensive standing start practice. The happy outcome was Prime Power stood perfectly last week, began beautifully, and duly won. Congratulations to the connections on making the effort - it goes to prove that it can be done for most horses) Matters arising from the Canterbury minutes were covered, including online nominations, the bulls-eye barrier draw, and the introduction of photo licences, all of which were supported. Concern was expressed at inconsistencies shown by the RIU in penalising the connections of horses that were late scratched due to being sold. Some received no penalty, while fines tended to vary from $200 to $350, and no bearing seemed to be given to whether or not another horse on the ballot had been denied a start. A letter has been drafted, and the matter was to be referred to the National Council for consideration. The state of Northern all-weather tracks was discussed, with the Cambridge and Manawatu surfaces being praised thanks to the use of conditioners etc., however there was concern over the consistency of Alexandra Park, partly due to the material containing a large amount of shell. It was decided to invite ATC officials to the next Branch meeting to discuss this and other matters. Chairman Peter Ferguson reported that horses that are claimed are still not being swabbed as a matter of course. The Committee felt that this should take place to ensure the integrity and safety of all concerned. (This opinion was subsequently supported at National Council level and a letter has been forward to the RIU). The matter of the payment of driving fees for those engaged for horses that are subsequently scratched was discussed. It is understood that jockeys receive half of their fee if this occurs, and the feeling is that drivers should receive the same, instead of the full amount being retained by the Club. The main point to this argument is that for most drivers, it does not take many of these to mean breaking even or losing money after expenses on a nights racing. Also, after drivers are declared, the chances of gaining another drive after a scratching were virtually non-existent. This matter will be referred to the up-coming National Council meeting for consideration. By Dave Neal/Peter Cook (NZ Trainers and Drivers Association)

Stig is becoming trotting’s version of the Never-ending Story. The veteran trotter, already the hero of one of the greatest comebacks in racing history, takes on rivals up to seven years younger than him at Addington tomorrow night. Remarkable as that is, if he performs up to the level trainer Paul Nairn expects, he will be on a plane to Melbourne next week for the A$350,000 Great Southern Star. Rising 12-year-olds embarking on Trans Tasman campaigns may be unheard of but Nairn says even after a disappointing season, Stig’s connections are keen for a crack at the richest prize in Southern Hemisphere trotting. “I know at times he hasn’t been as sharp as he can be this season, which you are going to get with a horse his age,” admits Nairn. “But he is trotting well now and feeling no real soreness. “I think he will improve on his last start (second) and if he races well this week he will head back to Melton.”
 Stig won a A$50,000 heat of the Great Southern Star at Melton last year before galloping in the final, although he never really looked happy on the Victorian track. But this year’s event, which comprises two heats and a final in the same night on Saturday, lacks a superstar in the form winner Vulcan was last season. So a fully fit and sound Stig could still out tough his younger rivals. He will need to be good to cement the trip as he meets one of the new breed of open class trotting in this country in Royal Aspirations, who has developed from a speed freak age group trotter into a genuine topliner. Nairn also expects a bold return tomorrow night from his Harness Jewels winner One Over Da Moon, who is over recent problems, but summer star Any Old Way is not and is heading for the paddock. If Stig does make it to Victoria he will join defending champion Vulcan, Stent and The Fiery Ginga in the GSS, as well as Kiwi-owned favourites Flying Isa and Keystone Del. But Vulcan’s high-profile stablemate Peak faces a long layoff after x-rays yesterday confirmed a splint bone issue, yet trainer Tim Butt says it could have been worse. “We were worried he had a suspensory issue but that scanned fine today,” says Butt. “But it looks like he has a splint bone issue, which is easier to fix. “So he will have an operation next Monday and hopefully can be back in work in three months.” Peak created a huge impression winning his first two New Zealand starts after being imported from Scandinavia last spring before being struck down by the issues. Meanwhile, tonight’s Manawatu meeting sees one of the great dropback tips of the new handicapping system in Jarcullembra. A former New Zealand Cup starter, Jewels runner-up to Terror To Love and the winner of over $200,000 in stakes, Jarcullembra hasn’t won for nearly two years so has dropped back to being assessed as a five-win horse. That sees him starting against horses who will never scale the heights he has been to in tonight’s $12,000 Palmerstonian, suggesting he will be at short odds in the 2000m mobile. By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Mike Ward won the Group One New Zealand Messenger Championship in 1996, but Saturday’s victory by Majestic Time in the Group Three $25,000 Neumann’s Hambletonian Classic at Ashburton was his career highlight. Ward owned and bred Decision Time but Mark Purdon trained him for 10 days before that Messenger triumph. “I think this win is even sweeter because even although we also bred this filly, and our family also owns her, I did the training this time round,” the West Melton horseman said. Majestic Time was the fourth favourite in Saturday’s 1609 metre mobile trot and paid $9 to win. She and driver Ken Barron had 1-1/2 lengths and a length to spare over place-getters, Any Old way (Paul Nairn) and Thebestlove (Anthony Butt). Winner’s time: 1:58.6. Last 800m: 58.4. 27.8. Majestic Time is owned by Ward, his wife Pauline, daughter Susan, and son Craig. “I’ve always had a bit of time for her. That’s why I gave my kids a share in her. I didn’t want to give them a dud,” Ward said. The bay filly is by Majestic Son out of the Ward owned and trained five-win ($54,939) Sundon mare, Time To Shine. She left four foals but died last year while foaling to a Muscles Yankee filly. “It’s a real honour to win a big race like the Hambletonian. It’s a prestigious race, especially here in Canterbury. She will make a good broodmare one day,” 63-year-old Ward said. He said there was still one win he would now dearly love to win – the Group Three New Zealand Trotting Oaks at Addington on April 4. “It’s the only major race on the calendar where she will get to take on her on sex. She beat the boys and girls on Saturday and should be tough to roll against the fillies. “But this is racing and you can never take anything for granted because you just don’t know who is going to come out of the woodwork, especially from the North Island,” said Ward who is a builder by trade and works three horses at West Melton. Mark Purdon won the last three Hambletonian Classics with Paramount Queen (2013 in 1:59.7), Escapee (2012 in 1:59.5), and Kylie Ree (2011 in 1:59.9). Purdon might not have won yesterday’s big trot but he and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen did claim their own Group Three prize on Saturday when he drove Follow The Stars to win the $25,000 Teltrack Sapling Stakes for 2-year-old pacers. Isaiah also won the same race from him in 1:57.2 last year, but Follow The Stars beat that time recording a blistering a 1:53.2. The Geoff Dunn trained Venus Serena was again brilliant in the third heat of the $15,000 Nevele R Fillies heat, recording the fastest mile of the day in a lightning 1:52.2. Driver John Dunn late last month told HRNZ the 3-year-old Mach Three filly was the best horse he had driven. She further endorsed that reputation on Saturday with her quickest career mile win, and 10th in 15 starts. Venus Serena has now banked $434,152 in stakes. Ashburton again proved to be one of the fastest tracks in New Zealand on Saturday when the 10 races carded all produced sub two-win miles. In fact Majestic Time’s 1:58.6 triumph was the slowest of the day. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Yes, they're on old chestnut and it's likely they will always be a discussion point. At the recent Greater Canterbury Branch meeting, Paul Nairn was the latest to express concern at some aspects of this method of starting races. He is a firm supporter of standing starts, but his beef is that, on numerous occasions, it is the horse that misbehaves that gains an advantage over the ones that are well schooled, and well behaved. The latest glaring example of this was Prime Power at Alexandra Park, not once, but twice over the holiday period. The horse was rearing, dancing about and generally behaving in an unruly fashion, but at the precise moment when he was almost charging the barrier, it was released and he got a flyer. Hardly fair on the other runners. These horses are labelled unruly for a reason, and should not be advantaged. Paul feels that teaching a horse to stand is an integral part of training, and if the animal can't do that, as some can't, restrict it to mobiles. He also feels that badly behaved horses should face consequences. I understand in Southland, the Clubs, horsemen and Starters have apparently reached agreement that if any horse is playing up behind the tapes, as long as it is not interfering with another runner, the race will be started and the offender will be left behind. In Canterbury it can vary, but on occasions at least the impression is that a misbehaving horse can gain an advantage over ones that have been standing for a while. At Forbury Park, who would know - to be honest the standing (and I use the word advisedly) starts there are bordering on farcical! I mean, apart from anything else, is gabbling something intelligible and yelling ‘Right" as loud as you can good for nervous horses? The problem is, we are all one Country, and often horses and drivers move around New Zealand and are faced with wondering what policy the starter in that area is following. Often it's too late when they find out. I recently attended a Starters meeting where a number of matters were covered off, but there was little, if any, mention of all starters doing their job the same way!? We can only hope that when, as seems likely, the RIU take over the employment of these officials, some form of uniformity can be reached. Peter T Cook (Courtesy of the New Zealand Harness Racing Trainers and Drivers Association)

A young driver’s first win is always a very memorable one.  But North Island junior reinsman Jack Mackinnon says his third career win aboard Dr Hook at Alexandra Park last night provided him with an even greater thrill. “He is a horse I have had a lot to do with in the past, so to drive him on raceday and win like that,  was very special," said Mackinnon, who started helping Nairn to during his trips to Auckland about four years ago. Given a 20 metre let-up in the handicaps through Mackinnon being a concession junior driver, Dr Hook made a quick beginning and positioned up well, before being shuffled back to last after Mackinnon opted to stay in when the backmarkers moved around the field. Mackinnon then cut the eight-year-old son of Dr Ronerail loose at 500 metres, and after ranging up to them stylishly on the home bend, he quickly raced on by to win emphatically by 6 & ½ lengths. Mackinnon celebrated the win with a fist pump as him and his old favourite Dr Hook crossed the line. “I wasn’t too worried when we were last at the 500 as I knew they had gone very hard up front,” explained Mackinnon. “When he was younger he was always a tough horse that could just run hard the whole race but now that he's developed some speed he can come of their backs and sprint past them which he proved last night,” he added. Dr Hook competed last night with no front shoes on, a trick which Mackinnon says helped his trotting gait. “He raced in the National Trot (third) and Lyell Creek Stakes (third) with no front shoes,” said Mackinnon.  “Paul (Nairn-trainer) had the idea (to race him with no shoes on) about a year ago but you have to wait until they have a bit of toe on otherwise it stuffs up their feet.” Mackinnon was very thankful to Paul Nairn and Dr Hook’s connections for giving him the opportunity on such a good horse. Mackinnon will now head to Tauranga on Sunday, where he has two good chances in Ruby Castleton and Trotupastorm, both of whom he trains himself. “Trotupastorm, like Dr Hook, has been training on the beach so I am expecting a good run from him.” “And Ruby Castleton definitely has the ability to win but there are a few question marks over her manners,” concluded Mackinnon. By Mitchell Robertson

While trotting maestro Paul Nairn is confident of a bold showing from One Over Da Moon on Sunday at Motukarara, he is not prepared to declare last season’s two-year-old Jewels champion a winner. “I don’t think he will be able to make his own luck and win on Sunday but with the right run he is definitely capable of doing so,” said Nairn. “He is as fit as I can have him without having a trial under his belt, but in saying that he will definitely improve off the run.” Nairn said that while the grass track is a slight concern for the three-year-old son of Majestic Son and champion mare One Over Kenny, he thinks he will handle it okay. “He has done a bit of work down the roadside, which is pretty similar to racing on a grass track,” explained Nairn. Nairn also expects his rising star to cope with the standing start. “He is generally a very quick beginner at home, so I am hoping he will translate that to race day,” said Nairn. One Over Da Moon, who won five of his eleven starts as a two-year-old, is likely to race again at Addington on January 31st, before honing in on his first main target – the $25,000 Hambletonian at Ashburton on February 8th. “I want to give him a couple of standing starts before the Hambletonian, as last time in he got quite fiery behind the mobile. While Nairn thinks One Over Da Moon is a good chance from his 20 metre back mark on Sunday, he is vulnerable, which opens things up for up and coming trotter Spell. “She is a very nice wee trotter with a lot of ability,” said co-trainer Peter Jones. “She was extremely tied up at Nelson last start, which makes her run for second even more impressive. She seems better now, so I expect her to be very hard to beat from her front mark.” Meanwhile, Nairn confirmed that champion trotter Stig is back in work after a two week let-up. “We have nothing set in concrete for him at the moment, we will just see how he is feeling,” said Nairn. “He is unlikely to head to Australia for the Great Southern Star, but we may give him a crack at going back-to-back in the Rowe Cup,” Nairn concluded. By Mitchell Robertson

Junior reinsman Jack Mackinnon will be rewarded for the time he has spent helping trotting maestro Paul Nairn over the past four years, when he takes the reins behind Dr Hook at Alexandra Park on Friday night. “It is going to be a huge thrill to drive him on raceday as he is a horse I have had plenty to do with,” explained Mackinnon, who started helping Nairn during his trips to Auckland about four years ago. “I met him through David Branch and things have just spiralled from there,” said Mackinnon. “He really is a pleasure to be involved with and he has taught me a lot,” he added. Mackinnon has been the caretaker trainer of 13 win trotter Dr Hook since his last start failure at Cambridge on January 10. “I have been training him on the beach out at Michelle Wallis’s and he is absolutely thriving on it,” enthused Mackinnon. “His work on Tuesday was super and I am expecting a very big run from him.” Through Mackinnon being a concession Junior Driver, Dr Hook gets a 20 metre let-up in the handicaps, which could just be enough to see the eight-year-old son of Dr Ronerail bounce back to winning form. “Flying Isa and Sovereignty are the two hardest to beat but they are both of 40 metres, while through the handicapping concession we are only off 20,” explained Mackinnon. “So all things being equal he should be hard to beat.” Mackinnon also has two stable representatives competing at Tauranga on Sunday, including stable newcomer Trotupastorm. “I have been working him on the beach as well and he seems to be really enjoying it,” said Mackinnon. “He’d have to be an each-way chance if he was on his game.” Mackinnon’s other runner this weekend is Ruby Castleton and while the ability is definitely there, the manners may not be. “She is a touch on mad side, but if she was to do things right she would she would take a lot of beating,” confirmed Mackinnon. Mackinnon has currently driven two winners, but looks a strong chance to add to that tally this weekend, hopefully with his old favourite Dr Hook. Meanwhile, last season’s Great Northern Derby winner Ohoka Punter is set to resume in the ninth race at Alexandra Park tonight. “I have been happy with his last two trial wins, so he should be hard to beat,” said Herlihy. “Obviously he will improve with a bit of race fitness, but you have to start somewhere,” he added. Herlihy originally had Chariots Of Fire aspirations with the hugely talented Bettor’s Delight four-year-old, but after consulting his father-in-law, the legendary Roy Purdon, he may now opt to set him for the local classics. “Roy said it’s too early to rush him into the ‘Chariots’, and that’s why I we will probably give it a miss.” Ohoka Punter has drawn well in barrier three for tonight’s $13,000 Auckland Cup Festival C4 to C7 pace, his first race start since finishing third behind Border Control in the Group One Harness Jewels 3yo Final at Ashburton on June 1. “I’m really happy with everything he has done so far this time in. It wouldn’t surprise me if he won, but then again it wouldn’t surprise me either if blew out a bit in the final stages either,” said Herlihy. With the Chariots Of Fire most likely off the radar, Ohoka Punter’s main short-term targets will be the Auckland four-year-old features in May – namely the Taylor Mile and New Zealand Messenger. “After that we will programme his racing from there but there’s always racing for him here during the winter. Long-term there’s the Jewels and then hopefully at the end of the year, the New Zealand Cup,” Herlihy said. By Mitchell Robertson

For all the riches on offer at Alexandra Park today, it may be a filly who missed her shot at group one glory who ends up the best bet. Angelina Jolie (R6, No 5) was luckless from wide draws in her heats of the Sires' Stakes Championship so has been relegated to the consolation, but the good news for punters is that makes her almost a Pick6 anchor. A group two winner last season, she has the gate speed to lead and dominate her rivals today so with anything like a peak performance will be too good. While anchors are hard to come by today, Whisper Jet (R11, No 10) couldn't have been more impressive last start and follows out the likely leader, in Chillysjustastrutter (2), who handed up to her under similar circumstances last start. So that gives them a tactical advantage over Splendour (11), who is the best-performed mare in the race but could need luck to repeat her win on this day last year.   While the early trot races are stacked with class, the best support race of the day could be race nine, where Elios (3) and All Star Man (5) clash again after a stirring battle last start. Both are running open class-type times but Elios should be able to wrest the lead easier today than the last time they clashed, so appeals as the better chance, while Give The Wink (9) should be running on but it's hard to see how he can get into a winning spot. The Manukau Cup looks tactical because rival drivers probably realise they can't let Easy On The Eye (R10, No 6) sail to the lead because if they do they won't catch him. Whether the likes of Pembrook Benny (5) or Franco Nelson (2) have the speed or desire to hold him out is the question of the race and after he sat parked to finish second in the NZ Free-For-All last month maybe it wouldn't matter. But the horse who beat Easy On The Eye that day, Pembrook Benny, should never be underestimated on his home track, so is value if he gets to around $4.50 in a race where champion mare Bettor Cover Lover (7) adds glamour but faces a tricky draw. As incredible as the depth is in the huge money age group races, Barry Purdon's runners hold the key. The most pronounced trend in major pacing races over 2200m or shorter at Alexandra Park in recent years is that those who have to come wide have little chance as the leaders pace around 2:40 and don't come back to the pack. That is worth remembering for trifectas and First4s, not that many people take First4s until they jackpot, because the pools can be quite underwhelming for harness First4s. The second heat of the Young Guns contains little in the way of raceday form but the times Hughie Green (R2, No 8) has been running in public have him looking the goods. He won well in a weak field on debut and he has trialled well after a short break, so can overcome the wide draw, with much interest in the richly bred Express Stride (2), who can really run and looks the one to beat. The early trot races have a very Paul Nairn feel to them, with Any Old Way (R1, No 6) only having to trot all the way to probably win again, while Lotalov (R3, No 8) will give Prime Power (12) plenty to chase, although the latter deserves favouritism as he is going to be an open-class star. And the National Trot could come down to whether defending champion Stig (R5, No 3) gets the lead. If he does he should win, if he doesn't then Stent (8) is favoured to swoop to victory, with Irish Whisper (6) and Boizel (2) the dangers and The Fiery Ginga (5) always a place chance. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald

Old crocks who have placed only once in their last seven starts hardly make attractive group one betting prospects - unless they are Stig. The amazing veteran returns to his favourite track at something approaching his favourite distance in the $80,000 National Trot tomorrow and it will take a very good horse to beat him. The last time Stig graced Alexandra Park he bolted away with the Rowe Cup, reminding us that when he is sound and can grind to run the sprint out of his rivals over extreme distances even he forgets how old he is. He did exactly that in this very race last year, downing a true champ in I Can Doosit in national record time. So the question tomorrow isn't whether 11-year-old Stig is good enough, but is he happy and sound enough? "I think so," says trainer Paul Nairn, who knows Stig better than most people know their partners.   "He has had his issues one way or another this season and he can sometimes struggle over the shorter trips but I think he will love the distance. "And he will be better than he was at Cambridge last week. I worked him with Dr Hook here on Saturday and I was happier with him than I have been in a while." Stig has always loved Alexandra Park and Nairn expects a no-nonsense approach from driver David Butt. "Once he has settled I'd like to see him in front because that is how he races best." As good as Stent was at Cambridge last Tuesday, if he can give Stig a start and a beating over a hard-run 2700m he will have gone to a new level because the old horse simply outstayed him last time they clashed over 3200m in the Dominion Handicap last month. That was Stig's only placing this season, showing he may now be a one-trick pony. But what a wonderful, courageous trick it is. The TAB has opened Stent the $2.30 favourite, with Stig very backable at $3.80 and Irish Whisper at $6.50. Nairn goes into tomorrow with two other last-start winners who can repeat, including the lower-grade trotting find of the summer in Any Old Way. He has bolted in twice in as many starts since coming north and meets a weakish field in the first race, considering he is a future Derby contender. "I thought Love Ya Doosie could be tough if she trotted all the way but my fella has really thrived with the racing," says Nairn. "He is pretty good." Lotalov will give Harness Jewels winner Prime Power plenty to chase in race three tomorrow provided she can get in front of him, which depends on how quickly Prime Power begins as he can really make a flyer. Superbowlcheerleader has cost punters plenty lately but is another contender if she mends her manners in one of several great support races. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald  

Paul Nairn is on the verge of orchestrating Awesome Trotting Comeback Part II. The race sealing that achievement could be tomorrow's $25,000 D.G. Jones Trotting Cup at Motukarara. Nairn has long been respected as a freak even among our outstanding crop of trotting trainers, with his incredible strike rate and ability to improve horses from even the best trainers. He wrote one of the great stories of New Zealand harness racing history last season when Stig won trotter of the year after three years out retired and now he is looking to produce something not quite so spectacular but still pretty incredible with Dr Hook. The perennial group one placegetter's life was in danger when he suffered severe colic in Victoria last season when on loan to the Mark Purdon stable and Nairn feared getting him back to the races at all. However, not only has Dr Hook returned but was a brave fresh-up second against some of the best trotters in Australasia at Addington last start.   With natural improvement he could go one better in tomorrow's group three feature on the grass. "He should improve on last start and that was a big run in a good field so I'd like to think he can win this week," says Nairn. The rain in Canterbury this week could aid Dr Hook on the giant grass track. "I don't think it will bother him if it gets soft, whereas it might bother a couple of the others. "So there are a few things in his favour." Although the mighty Stig will miss the race as he is on a fat-trimming programme, Nairn also has former group one winner Raydon starting. "He hasn't been trotting quite as well as I would like so I think he will need to improve." Their opposition includes Vulcan, who is incredibly nearing the $1 million stake mark, and Escapee, who is possibly our fastest trotter. As good as Escapee is, a slog on a testing grass track may not be her go but it is hard to imagine it will bother Vulcan, who has won this race before. He needed the run so was driven quietly at Addington last start but ran on well and looks the logical horse to beat tomorrow, with the small field and big track helping negate his 20m handicap. Add in the greatly improved Uncas and dual Jewels winner Cyclone U Bolt and the open-class trotting season is starting to hot up, with the tantalising prospect that the best of them all, I Can Doosit, is back in work and could be racing by Christmas. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald    

The harness racing season is about to get serious. Not just because some of the best trotters in Australasia step out in one of the strongest races of the last 12 months at Addington tonight but because the couple set to dominate New Zealand harness racing also kick off their season. Champion trainer Mark Purdon is back from a rare holiday and now in partnership with Natalie Rasmussen, with the new team producing their first representatives tonight. They may only have four starters, with star trotters Escapee and Cyclone U Bolt facing a daunting task in the Ordeal Cup, but regardless of how tonight unfolds, the Purdon-Rasmussen combination would be short odds to win back the premiership Purdon lost on the last day of last season to Cran Dalgety. They have a huge number of promising youngsters who have started filtering through to the trials and workouts as well as superstars like I Can Doosit, Smolda (both back in work this week), Adore Me and Border Control to attack the best races with. And Purdon has given the first hints he may send horses more regularly to destinations like Forbury Park and Southland, which would guarantee plenty of short-priced favourites and some easy additions to their premiership numbers. "The way the programming and handicapping is going to be this season it will be smart for us to split some of the younger or lower grade horses up,” admits Purdon. “So you could see more of ours travel.” A prime example is handy maidens Machs A Flyin and Raesawinner, who clash in race one tonight. Both should leave maidens before long, with Purdon favouring Machs A Flyin, who has trialled well since coming back from a long injury layoff. But tonight’s main trot presents a vastly different test, with Escapee and Cyclone U Bolt up against Stig, Vulcan, Sovereignty, Dr Hook and The Fiery Ginga. “It is going to be a very hard race to win,” says Purdon. “Both of ours trialled well last Saturday but they are still on the way up. “Escapee is very good as we all know but her manners can be a bit tricky when she is fresh whereas Cyclone U Bolt will get things right.” So Purdon is hardly bursting with confidence in a race where luck in the running will be crucial as few horses are good enough to work in a race of this quality and still win. The obvious exception is Stig, who looked totally out of sorts in his comeback race last Friday, sweating up badly then trotting roughly and never looking a winning chance. His trainer Paul Nairn is less concerned about that than he is tonight’s wide draw from the 2600m start. “He was wheezing after the race last week and we think he might have had an allergic reaction to something,” said Nairn. “And he has worked well since so I expect him to go better but he will settle close to last and that is going to make it very difficult to get around all those good horses and win.” Nairn also has Dr Hook returning tonight and says the speedster is working well but he would be surprised if he could win having not raced since February. Vulcan has looked sharp at recent trials and is well suited by the conditions of tonight’s race but a lot will depend on what sort of passage Anthony Butt can negotiate for the 10-time group one winner from the inside of the second line. The other standout performer tonight will be unbeaten three-year-old Locharburn, who looks a certainty again in race four. By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Stig could race until he’s 14 according to co-owner Jim Boyd. For now trainer Paul Nairn is just taking one race at a time with the 2012-2013 Trotter-of-the-Year. The 11-year-old gelding makes his return to racing at Addington This Friday night (September 6) in the $12,000 Sims Metals Handicap Trot. Stig will start from the 30m mark. “This will be his lead-up to the Ordeal Cup. He’s pretty sound at the moment. Any little niggles he’s had in the past certainly haven’t got any worse. “We’ve had no hiccups in his preparation so there’s no reason why he can’t carry on from where he left off last season. He’s certainly showing no signs of his age or soreness,” Nairn said. “And he’s still got that will to win which is encouraging,” he added. Nairn said Stig was in the same condition as what he was this time last year, but was starting his racing a month earlier. He said he would be better for the run but his natural talent would take him close to winning. The more seasoned fellow 30m back-markers The Fiery Ginga and Sovereignty will be toughest for Stig to beat. The son of Armbro Invasion started last season with a second behind Sovereignty at Addington on October 5 and then went on to win six of his 12 starts and $227,029 – including the Rowe Cup in May. Now the winner of 23 of his 53 starts and $816,486 Stig is looking to make amends of his second behind I Can Doosit in last year’s Dominion. His Hamilton based co-owner Boyd, who is renowned for writing and then singing a song about Stig after each of his victories, said he was set to put pen to paper again this season. “I wrote one when he won Trotter-of-the-Year and I also wrote one when he won the Rowe Cup. I’m getting one ready for the Dominion,” Boyd said. Nairn has won two Rowe Cups with Inspire in 2006 and Stig this year. He will have a three-pronged attack on the Group Ones this year with Dr Hook and Raydon also representing the stable. “Dr Hook is also coming along nicely and Raydon was sent to us from up north from Matt Hickey and is progressing well. We should see him at the end of the month,” Nairn said. As for another Australia mission with Stig, Nairn replied: “I’m playing that one by ear. There are not many 2700 races over there and he would have to line up in sprint races against much younger horses. “There’s also not as much money on offer over there for the trotters as what there is here. We’ll attack the Dominion and then head north for the racing at Alexandra Park and Cambridge again. We worry about Australia then,” Nairn said. As for Boyd: “I just want to keep writing songs about him,” Boyd said. Stig is also owned by Tim and Andrea Butt, Mrs R.I. Boyd, R.G. Thomas, and Mrs J.A. Gordon. He was bred by Jessleigh Harness Bloodstock. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Two private workouts far from the glamour of Breeders Crown week have convinced trainer Paul Nairn that One Over Da Moon is ready for the biggest challenge of his career. The Harness Jewels winning juvenile trotter heads to Melbourne today for Sunday’s A$158,000 ABC Final and will arrive the most unknown of the favoured runners at the mega rich meeting. While every other starter on Sunday has raced in Australia, One Over Da Moon hasn’t had to, because the trot series has no semi finals and he won his non-tote ABC heat at Addington. That could provide punters with a huge bonus as bookies in Australia have One Over Da Moon as long as $4.20 even though he looks the most talented horse in the race. That is also because local star I’m Stately, backed in from $1.80 to $1.60, has been winning by record margins and has drawn well on the front line whereas One Over Da Moon will start off the unruly. But Nairn is not worried about that or the Melton track which has tripped up some great trotters in the past when on debut there. “The unruly doesn’t bother me because he can get quite racey early and I hope he will settle better back there,” said Nairn. “And being two-year-old trotters there will probably be a few gallopers.” Nairn, rated by many as our greatest trainer of trotters, has been working overtime to ensure One Over Da Moon is not one of those gallopers. He added more weight to the colt’s shoes before his last-start win at Addington and has been driving him hard in bends at full speed on tight tracks to simulate what might happen at Melton on Sunday. “I took him to John Versteeg’s place, where the track is quite tight, and he handled it perfectly,” said Nairn. “And then I drove him nearly full speed around the home bend at Motukarara last week, wide outside the pylons and he handled that well too. “I am about 80 per cent confident he will trot throughout and I am excited about the race.”
 One Over Da Moon flies from Christchurch to Sydney today and travels to Melbourne by road but Nairn is not concerned about that either after he handled a road trip to Auckland in May without hassle. “He actually thrived on that trip so I am not worried at all.” By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Sunday’s barrier draws for the Breeders Crown finals may have sealed the fate, for better or worse, of many of the major contenders. Frith will turn up on Super Sunday with a picket fence next to her name and that is expected to continue as she will be trying to make amends for her third place finish in last year’s series. From barrier three she will be hard to hold out at the start, and the finish; however Kiwi filly Safedra (9) and Victoria’s leading chance Im Smouldering (5) will be among a large chase group in the $175,000 final. The second race is for the juvenile trotters and the all-but-unbeaten Im Stately has drawn well in four. Having gone down by a head, a head and a metre in his three defeats, the David Jack-trained colt will have to overcome his Redwood Classic conqueror in Daenerys Targaryen. The New Zealand filly has drawn the pole and despite looking shaky in her gait on more than one occasion, looms as a major threat along with Vicbred Super Series winner Claudys Princess who has drawn seven. One Over Da Moon for Paul Nairn was a winner of the Harness Jewels just on six weeks ago but will be stuck with the extreme draw if the emergency is to be withdrawn. The four-year-old trotters’ final could well be the most open of the season however Shes An Image has returned to form at her past three starts and will be aided by her front row draw of four. Directly outside her are Rosalie Bay and the exciting Maorisfavouritesun however there will also be a serious challenge from the second row as Brunelleschi, drawn nine, and Shakamond, drawn 12, are likely to be well supported. Blitzthemcalder is one of the headline horses of the series and on paper barrier six isn’t what you’d be hoping for in a Group 1 final. However the enigmatic superstar will have time to balance up early; The Boss Man and Spidergirl have drawn barriers one and two while the entire second row can all be considered chances. Lead by Our Dreamlover in nine, the talented back row may turn the race into one of the best of the season for the classic-aged squaregaiters. Majestic Amy was a $12 chance heading into her heat but off the back of an impressive win and inside barrier, she has opened the clear-cut favourite for the two-year-old fillies final. From two, Michael Muscat will have options early as major dangers Te Amo Bromac and Whereibylong have drawn inside the second row. Race 6 will be for the four-year-old boys and Ideal Scott is coming off one of the quickest last halves ever recorded at Tabcorp Park Melton and if he can replicate that he will again be hard to beat. If the emergency comes out he will assume pole position but the challengers will be lining up left right and centre. Heza Presidente in four (three with the emergency out), Kiwi hope Besotted just outside him and both Keayang Steamer (drawn eight) and Restrepo (drawn nine) all primed for battle. The two-year-old colts and geldings go head-to-head on Super Sunday for $303,000 and the race that was turning into the Purdon’s Vs. the McCarthy’s may have been won at the barrier draw. Luke and Belinda McCarthy received front row draws for all three of their superstar juveniles as impressive semi-final winner Bling It On came up with barrier one. All Eyes On Us will start from two and Lettucerockthem from five. In contrast, Barry Purdon’s pair of Our Sky Major (drawn nine) and Our Maxim (drawn 12) will have no favours in the run. The same can be said for Mark Purdon’s lone hope Messini who appears awkwardly placed in four. The four-year-old mares won’t be an easy division to predict however heat winners Born Again Sassy and Major Bonus have both drawn well in one and eight respectively. Real Bonus, who went down narrowly to Major Bonus in their heat, will start from the front row in barrier four. Cheer The Lady is coming off a heat win of her own and last year’s three-year-old fillies Breeders Crown champion will need luck from 10. Shane Tritton not only has Major Bonus qualified for the final, he will also train Light In Every Day from barrier seven in the $100,000 race. The last Breeders Crown final to be run on the program will be for the three-year-old colts and geldings and despite drawing five; Bit Of A Legend will start the shortest priced favourite of the day. Likely challengers Pachacuti and Nowitzki had no luck at the draw taking barriers 12 and 13 for connections of the promising types. by Blake Redden ( Harness Racing Australia)

Junior reinsman, Matt Purvis, waited longer than he would have liked to drive his first winner. But, when he finally did at Oamaru today, he did it in grand style. “It is good to get that first one out of the way. Driving a good horse definitely makes it a bit easier,” laughed Purvis, who was having his 36th drive today. That good horse Purvis speaks of is Elios, who recorded his fifth career win today at just start number 14. After going forward from the gate, Purvis dictated terms in front, before Elios did the rest, dashing away for an emphatic five and a half length victory. El Fuego and Nicole Harris, who was also looking for her first win, finished in second, with Uncle Trevor a further 1 & ¼ lengths away in third. “I’ve been pretty unlucky not to pick one up before now, but you can’t help bad luck. I’m absolutely stoked. We are actually about to stop of in Temuka now to stock up and have a few celebrational drinks.” Purvis got his initial groundings with Phillip Vermulean and Greg & Nina Hope, before working for trotting legend Paul Nairn. “Everyone has been great. I worked for Greg & Nina for three years, and they gave me a great grounding. I also learnt a lot from Paul and he helped me with my driving. Purvis now works for the Woodend barn of Robert Dunn, who prepared today’s winner Elios. “I really enjoy working them at the beach and Johnny (Dunn) has also been very helpful with my driving,” concluded Purvis. Purvis has always had a keen interest in the harness racing game. His dad has raced a few horses as a owner and his granddad Les Purvis was a stipe for many years. by Mitchell Robertson  

2YO Ruby champion, One Over Da Moon, booked his ticket to the Australasian Breeders' Crown with a strong win in a five horse non-tote heat at Addington last night.

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