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By Jonny Turner     A last start group 1 winner and rising trotting star is set to give Southland harness racing a big boost when it returns next week. Master trotting trainer Phil Williamson is eyeing the first post-lockdown meeting at Ascot Park for Ultimate Stride’s long awaited return to the track. The blueblood son of Love You and millionaire mare, One Over Kenny, will have been through two lockdowns when he steps out at Invercargill. The first came when the 3yr-old had to be boxed after suffering a peddle bone injury after bolting in at the Breeders Crown Finals at Melton in August of last year. The injury came as a surprise to Williamson, ­­after the horse initially came through his maiden group 1 victory in good style. “After he won at the Breeders Crown we got him back here and put him in the paddock,” the Oamaru trainer said. “Then, two weeks later, he was lame and the x-rays showed he had broken a peddle bone.” Ultimate Stride’s peddle bone has healed well and he has progressed well through his current campaign. “The peddle bone has healed well and there are no problems with it,” Williamson said. “Horses can injure them again, but at this stage there has been nothing to worry about.” Williamson plans to start Ultimate Stride at next week’s meeting if the horse trials up to the trainer’s satisfaction on his home track on Saturday. The 3yr-old currently has 65 rating points to his name, which means he will effectively have to race hardened all-comers in his return. That has Williamson slightly weary ahead of next week’s meeting. “He is a very nice horse and I have got a good opinion of him, but it won’t be easy for him.” “He will be first up for a long time and there are some nice trotters around.” “I know Nathan [Williamson] has his good trotter, Chinese Whisper, ready to go.” The draft rescheduling of the Harness Million and NZ Sires Stakes Championships give Williamson and his owners, Emilio and Mary Rosati, plenty to work towards with Ultimate Stride. A return trip to Victoria for the Love You trotter to the Breeders Crown and Victorian Trotters Derby is unlikely at this stage. The Rosatis are not keen on setting up a clash between Ultimate Stride and their leading Australian based 3yr-old, Elite Stride, Williamson said. The powerhouse owners do not just have their pair of smart 3yr-olds to look forward to. Williamson is set to trial another of their NZB Standardbred Yearling Sales purchases in Leaf Stride, soon. The 2yr-old colt, by Love You from Sun Mist, who was the second highest priced trotting yearling at last year’s Christchurch sale, is progressing well and could race at short notice. Williamson has just brought this year’s trotting sales topper, a Love You colt from Queen Kenny, back in to work. The yearling will be put through another preparation ahead of next season. The colt has impressed the trainer with what he has done so far, he said. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

1: Best horse who you have ever been associated or worked with (owned, bred, jogged, trained, driven): One Over Kenny, she had a great all round game 2: Best horse you have ever seen live: Couldn’t pick one out but I would say the best performance seen was the run by No Response to win the Interdom Trot Final at Addington. Came from an impossible position to win easy against the best 3: Best horse you have seen in any form (live, on tv, on the internet): Winx, Champion horse with a champion trainer 4: If you could have any driver in history driving for you in most important race of your life, it would be?: Tony Herlihy, he is just class. 5: The best trainer you have ever seen: Barry and Mark Purdon tied until Nat joined Mark. As a combo they have taken racing to a new level of excellence so I would have to go for them. 6: Your favourite racetrack: Winton. Big and fair and you can win from anywhere. I believe all the records would be there if the best horses raced there over summer. 7: The unluckiest or hardest to swallow defeat of your career. Interdominion Final 2019 – Majestic Man. Last 400m a hard watch. 8: The race you have never won but would love to: Interdominion Trot Final 9: The horse we never got to see the best of is: Leighton Hest. Soundness ended his career early. 10: The racing win, yours or somebody elses, that gave you the most joy: Dominion Handicap – Springbank Richard. Such a prestigious race to win. 11: Who is the person in harness racing you haven’t seen since lockdown started you are looking forward to seeing the most when we get back to the track: Ricky May, haven’t seen Rick since that traumatic day and looking forward to catching up with him.   Harness Racing New Zealand

Liberty Stride’s brief but brilliant career is over. And that means last season’s Breeders Crown winner for Phil Williamson is heading to the broodmare paddock and straight into the class of “what might have been” horses. Liberty Stride exploded onto the feature race scene last winter when, after demolishing a lower grade field at Forbury Park, she went to Victoria and brilliantly won fresh up. After galloping in the Victoria Trotting Derby she returned to racing against her own sex in a staggering fashion bolting to a 20m win in the three-year-old fillies Breeders Crown on August 24. At the end of that campaign she didn’t return home but moved to the Anthony Butt’s Menangle stable where owner Emilio Rosati believed she would have better opportunities. Sadly she never got to show her best there.  After running second fresh up for Butt in January she galloped at her next start and was subsequently found to have very bad knees. “It was a case of bone on bone, the vet said her knees were as bad as he had ever seen in a racehorse,” Butt told HRNZ. “So we had little choice but to retire her. It is a real shame because she was so talented but at least she got that group one win and being out of Jasmyn’s Gift she will make a great broodmare. “But we would have loved to have her racing for a few more seasons.” While Liberty Stride won’t be seen around the Menangle barn of Butt and his fiancee Sonya Smith again they have plenty of horses to go on with as he has become the main trainer for Rosati, arguably the biggest owner in the industry in this part of the world. That has seen the stable grow enormously, with horses like Wolf Stride, who contests the first Menangle heat of the Regional Series on Tuesday just one of their rising stars. “He is a really nice horse and has to be hard to beat on Tuesday because he won well last week and he has only improved from that,” says Butt. “Emilio and Mary have been very good to us and I enjoy working with him. “As people back home know he has plenty of horses there and he moves them across to Australia when he thinks the time is right.” The pair’s best horse could be three-year-old trotter Elite Stride, who Butt says could be the real deal. “He is very, very good and I think he might make a top open class horse,” says the man who handled both Lyell Creek and Take A Moment. Butt still does plenty of driving for his brother Tim, who is also based at Menangle and the pair won both major trots there on Saturday night with Sassy Pants and Majestic Courtney. “Sassy Pants is very fast and she showed good manners last week, which was the key for her. “But Tim’s team is flying so we are both really making the most of it over here. “At the moment with the regional racing we are racing three or four days a week at Menangle and that really suits us.” The Butt brothers will, however, be hit by the stake decreases announced for the entire NSW harness industry last week, including their home track at Menangle. “I suppose we expected them and nobody likes to see that,” says Butt before a surprising take on what harness racing administrators on both sides of the Tasman face. “It is a tough time for everybody and I don’t envy the people trying to run the industry under these circumstances. “I had a bit to do with administration when I was back home, sitting on handicapping committees and things like that and there is so much more to consider than what you initially think. “It can be pretty challenging and with so many people wanting what they want, after having been in some of these meetings I am sometimes surprised we get anything done.”   Michael Guerin

By Michael Guerin Harness racing trainer Phil Williamson thinks tomorrow may be the time to roll the dice with Majestic Man. And that could mean more aggressive tactics with the speedster in the $100,000 National Trot at Alexandra Park’s twilight Auckland Cup meeting. Majestic Man is coming to end of a huge month, having been a luckless second in the Inter Dominion Trot Final when he refused to take the passing lane and then a booming runner-up to Oscar Bonavena in the Flying Mile at Cambridge last Tuesday. On both occasions you could argue that reverse the runs he and his conquerors had and Majestic Man could have won, and Oamaru trainer Williamson says tomorrow may be the time to take bad luck out of the equation. “It is his last race of the campaign and it might be time for a change of tactics,” said Williamson. “I am not saying he should have won those last two races but if he had gone into the passing lane when Brad (Williamson) wanted in the ID Final I think he would have beaten Winterfell. “And while Oscar is a machine, I think we have gone every bit as good as him at Cambridge when we had to come wide and he trailed. “So this might be our chance even though it is a very good field.” The Group one 2700m mobile rates as the strongest trotting race in Australasia for at least two years, with most of the Inter Dominion stars plus Oscar Bonavena and last season’s Northern Trot Derby winner Enhance Your Calm. With so many Group one winners in the field Williamson thinks the best place to be might be in front of them. “If he shows his usual gate speed and crosses Winterfell, then I’d be happy for Brad to stay in front. “If he is out there in front trotting even quarters (400m sectionals) in 30 seconds and Oscar is still good enough to come around him and beat him then so be it. “And that might be the case but this is almost certainly our last run of the campaign. I doubt we will go to Australia for the Great Southern Star so I think it is time to have a crack.” Williamson will put a boring pole on Majestic Man in case tactics change and he does need to be steered into the passing lane but the prospect of him free-wheeling in front and making the other favourites chase him down would set the National Trot alight. Tomorrow’s meeting is stacked with All Stars-trained favourites and it is extremely hard to see them beaten in either the Auckland Cup or the $200,000 Sales Series Pace. So Majestic Man in the Trot and the Robert Dunn-trained pair of Spellbound and Need You Now in he Alabar Sires’ Stakes Championship look the best chances of stopping a total All Stars domination of the final meeting for 2019. While tactics can change, if Majestic Man can cross Winterfell and lead then regardless of whether he can hold on to win the quinella with Oscar Bonavena comes more sharply into focus as if the pair are lead and parked at the 800m it is going to take a slick trotter to get past them both. With co-trainer Mark Purdon sticking with Oscar Bonavena as he prepares for an overseas campaign Natalie Rasmussen gets back on Interdom winner Winterfell from barrier one, with Tim Williams the new driver for Enhance Your Calm. Marcoola, who was a costly early galloper in the Flying Mile at Cambridge, will also have a new driver with Scott Phelan to take the reins, Phelan having done much of the work with the enigmatic trotter since he joined the Barry Purdon stable. Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand

By Jonny Turner Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson has plotted a path from Gore to the glory of the Interdominions at Alexandra Park for Otago horse of the year Majestic Man. The 5yr-old will begin his first full season as an open-class horse in a relatively minor race at the Eastern Southland track on Saturday. The race will serve as a starting point for Majestic Man as he works towards the Interdominions, his main aim for the season. Returning to Alexandra Park to race right-handed, under mobile conditions, makes the series a perfect fit for the Rowe Cup placegetter. ''Our main goal for the year is to get through to the Interdominions,'' Williamson said. ''It's well proven that he's well suited to the Auckland way around and I just think it's a series that he'll be suited to. And he's got plenty of gate speed - or enough to be competitive with those top horses.'' Majestic Man will step back into the top classes when he heads to the Ashburton Trotters Flying Mile on Labour Day. From there, Williamson will formulate a plan for the horse through to the New Zealand Cup Carnival. ''We will just go race by race and see how happy we are with him.'' Majestic Man had a quiet hitout at the Oamaru trials yesterday, running third behind Playboy's Brother and pacer Spirit Of St Louis. Though the horse will not be at his absolute peak for Saturday's race, Majestic Man will be forward enough to be highly competitive. ''It would be disappointing if he didn't give it a bit of a nudge,'' Williamson said. ''He has had a couple of trials underneath him and I think he will run well. It did take him a couple of runs [to get fit] at the beginning of last season, so I wouldn't say he is a line-up-and-win job, but I'm sure he will go a nice race.'' Majestic Man will start alongside stablemate Monty Python from the back mark of 40m in Saturday's 2700m handicap. The 10yr-old showed the first glimpse of form of his new campaign when second behind Robbie Royale at Northern Southland last weekend. Monty Python had little chance in his previous two runs when getting back in a sprint home at Oamaru behind Oscar Bonavena and getting left parked in the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup. ''He is an old fellow, but he doesn't show his age,'' Williamson said. ''He's racing really well. We haven't had a lot of luck with him this time in. He just needs the right run in a good race, if we can get in to it.'' The country's trotting ranks got a boost yesterday when Monbet won by five lengths at the Rangiora workouts. The Greg and Nina Hope-trained trotter's career hung in the balance after two poor efforts following his return from a long injury battle. Monbet won his 2600m event in the moderate time of 3.22.8. The heat featured another trotter who has been out of action through injury in Luby Lou. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Phil Williamson’s trotting genius helped the New Zealand flag fly proudly on Australasian Breeders Crown Finals night at Melton on Saturday. Williamson led the charge for the kiwi contingent by producing blueblood trotters Liberty Stride and Ultimate Stride for emphatic victories. Liberty Stride set the tone for a great night out for the New Zealanders when powering away from her opposition to win the group 1 3yr-old fillies final. Williamson’s renown trotting skill shone through when the filly, who had galloped in two of her three Victorian starts, put in a faultless display to win by almost 20 metres for driver Anthony Butt.  “It is a big thrill for us – massive,” Williamson said.  “We are just so thrilled to come here and win nice races, it is not easy.” “You do have to bring the right horses and if you have a nice horse this is what you can achieve.” Williamson had put the finals night polish on his daughter of Muscle Hill and Jasmyns Gift at the Victorian stable of Brent Lilley and his partner Tracey Cullen. Williamson revealed his Victorian venture had become far more than just a business trip.  “I have been here for six weeks with [Brent], he has been a sensational host.” “His partner Tracy is up at 4.15am feeding the horses and their little son Jack has allowed me in to their family.” “I have just had a fantastic stay.” Little more half an hour after Liberty Stride’s demolition job, Williamson produced Ultimate Stride for an even more emphatic group 1 victory. The son of Love You and millionaire mare One Over Kenny embarrassed his Australian opposition when he ran away with the 2yr-old trotting colt’s and gelding’s final by nearly 40 metres.  Ultimate Stride powered through tough conditions as rain and wind pelted the Melton track during the group 1 event. And though his Australian opposition could not match him, Anthony Butt revealed that he could not get his charge to go any slower.  “The conditions weren’t ideal.” “He was getting pretty keen that first lap – I couldn’t get him going any slower. “ “He just wanted to get on with it, but he was very good, he smashed them.”  The New Zealand contingent added a third Breeders Crown title to their haul in dramatic circumstances when Kratos was crowned the 3yr-old trotting colts and geldings winner in the enquiry room. The John and Joshua Dickie trained squaregaiter was second past the post in a thrilling three-way finish with the winner, All Cashed Up, and third placegetter Majestuoso.  All Cashed Up galloped late in the run home, but it was not just a case of waiting for the horse to be automatically relegated like he would have been under New Zealand rules for breaking over the line. An enquiry was held to decide whether All Cashed Up had either had not gained an advantage or at least was unable to maintain his momentum when galloping. Stewards ruled All Cashed Up had not complied with Australia’s breaking rules and Kratos was crowned the group 1 Breeders Crown champion.  Earlier on the Melton card, star filly Princess Tiffany was defeated in a shock result in 3yr-old pacing fillies final. Sitting parked throughout, and copping some minor interference before the home turn, took its toll on the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained 3yr-old when she was beaten in to third behind upset winner No Win No Feed. Princess Tiffany was caught late by fellow New Zealander, Best Western, who continued her superbly consistent Breeders Crown campaign by finishing second.  The New Zealand pairing of Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac could not match brilliant Australian colt Be Happy Mach in the 2yr-old pacing colt’s and gelding’s final. But, the pair still performed admirably and completed a brilliant night for the New Zealand contingent by finishing third and fourth respectively.    By Jonny Turner Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson had one of those dream nights in Australia last night, winning two Group One races at the Melton track, and both trotters were very impressive. “It’s getting up there. To win two Group One races in one night and three Group One races with two horses in six weeks is a pretty good effort I’d say,” said Williamson, rating last night’s achievement. Three year old trotting filly Liberty Stride got the ball rolling, winning her Breeders Crown Final by 19.4 metres in the hands of former New Zealand reinsman Anthony Butt. One race later Ultimate Stride continued on his winning way by taking out the two year old section of the Breeders Crown. Having completed his Australian trip unbeaten – he’s won all of his four starts and has banked $87,490 for owners Emilio and Mary Rosati. Williamson who’s no stranger to taking horses to Australia says both horses were eligible for the rich series, so a trip to Australia was always a possibility. “We just had to make sure their form was right. Liberty Stride won at Forbury and went super. Ultimate Stride had a couple of wee issues at the Jewels so I had to get on top of that. He’s a very soft skinned horse and was having trouble with cracking his heels and bleeding. Once that happens they’re not happy. We gave him a wee bit of time off.” Normally members of the Williamson family drive Phil’s horses on both sides of the Tasman but not this time, with Williamson hiring expat Anthony Butt. “He’s a big race driver and that showed in Liberty Stride’s race. He probably outdrove the others. I used him when I came over for the Interdominions. With the boys (Nathan and Brad) having their own busy lifestyles with their own teams and Matty having just been away to the World Drivers Championships it made more sense to use Anthony.” Ultimate Stride’s dam One Over Kenny won six races in Australia including the Group One Australasian Trotting Championship and the EB Cochran Trotters Cup in 2007, and a semi-final of the 2009 Interdominions. Jasmyn’s Gift, the dam of Liberty Stride also raced in Australia but without much luck. Williamson says Ultimate Stride will return home on Wednesday but Liberty Stride will stay in Australia to be trained by Brent Lilley.  “As a four year old mare there’s not a lot of opportunity in New Zealand. She’s up to it but it would be harder. If she gets a nomination for the Harness Jewels she’ll come back to me for that. Brent’s been a wonderful host and has looked after me really well.” Ultimate Stride, after a busy juvenile season will now have time off. “He’ll have six to eight weeks off and we’ll look towards racing him after Christmas. All going well we’ll head back to Australia for the Three Year Old Breeders Crown and we’ll have another crack at the Victoria Derby. It was the only one that got away from us on the trip.” Springbank Richard won the Group One Victoria Derby for Williamson and son Nathan in 2007.   Bruce Stewart

One of the proudest nights of Phil Williamson’s career has come at a cost. But the Kiwi trainer isn’t about to let that take the gloss off his group one double in the space of 35 minutes at Melton in Victoria on Saturday night. Williamson produced Liberty Stride (three-year-old fillies) and Ultimate Stride (two-year-old boys) to record massive wins in their divisions of the Breeders Crown, the first winning by 19.4m which seemed like a dramatic demolition job until Ultimate Stride nearly doubled that, winning his final by 37.8m after sitting parked. That set up a Kiwi clean sweep of the only three trotting finals they contested at the rich Breeders Crown meeting with Kratos a promoted winner of the A$80,000 three-year-old trot final after first past the post All Cashed Up, who beat him by a nose, was relegated for galloping. His win was the fifth Breeders Crown success for South Auckland trainers John Dickie but while he and son Josh had to have their little trotter trained to perfection to win, Williamson was still the star of the show. Liberty Stride was unheralded just two months ago yet her development curve has been so steep she now rates as one of the most exciting young trotters in Australasia, but Williamson won’t get to take her to the next level next campaign. Owner Emilio Rosati has decided to leave Liberty Stride in Victoria to be trained by Brent Lilley whereas Williamson will be bringing Ultimate Stride home. “Emilio bought her (Liberty Stride) off us so he gets to make those choices and it is hard to argue with because there isn’t a lot here for a four-year-old trotting mare,” says Williamson. “So if she qualifies for the Australian invite for the Jewels we might get her back but I’m sure what Emilio does with her long-term will depend on how she is racing.” Williamson was stoked by his first group one double, especially after spending nearly six weeks in Australia training just the two horses. “I think we had eight starts here for six wins, a second and gallop so they have really done us proud. “I was pretty excited last night. Group one don’t usually come easy but they both absolutely bolted in so I had time to enjoy them.”Ultimate Stride’s win was a bonus for Williamson who originally thought his juvenile season was over until Sydney-based Rosati talked him into tackling the Crown. “It was a real after thought but he thrived on the trip and while it is only two-year-old racing I think everybody can see he is a real open class trotter in the making.”
While all three New Zealand-trained trotters won their finals the pacers had to settle for placings, with Best Western second in the three-year-old fillies final in which fellow Kiwi filly Princess Tiffany was surprisingly beaten into third after nothing went her way. And the juvenile pacing boys pair of Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac were outpointed by the local star Be Happy Mach in their A$300,000 final.   Michael Guerin

PHIL Williamson has put his name alongside Mark Purdon as the only Kiwi trainer to win Australia’s treasured Group 1 Redwood Classic. Purdon has trained and driven two winners of the juvenile trot at Maryborough – High Gait (2015) and Daenerys Targaryen (2013) – and Williamson won yesterday’s renewal with the exciting Ultimate Stride. It was a truly Kiwi affair with Anthony Butt making the trip down from his NSW-base to take the reins on Ultimate Stride. “It’s a time-honoured race and one I’ve always wanted to win. It’s great to finally get it,” Butt said. “It’s been a hard race for the Kiwis to win, so all credit to Phil for coming across and winning it.” The Aussie flavour from the win came through owners Emilio and Mary Rosati, who not race Ultimate Stride, but went back-to-back in the Redwood after Emerald Stride scored last year for trainer-driver David Miles. Butt said he was also confident in the run even when he had to make his move earlier than he wanted. “He was almost going to too, I couldn’t hold him any longer,” he said. “I was happy to make it a staying test anyway, I had faith in his staying ability.” Ultimate Stride was backed into $1.60 favouritism and won by 3.4m over Is That A Bid with Im Daddy Warbucks third in a 2min4.1sec mile rate for the 2190m standing start. His task was certainly made easier when second favourite Powderkeg galloped his way out of contention. Williamson’s hopes of a Group 1 double were dashed when his Victoria Trotters’ Derby favourite Liberty Stride galloped hopelessly at the start and finished tailed-out. ________________________________________________________________________________ YOU know something else special happened when winning first-up aboard Inter Dominion champ Tornado Valley isn’t the highlight of Kate Gath’s massive Redwood Day. Gath was left in awe of the raw but seriously gifted Majestuoso after thrashed his rivals in the Group 1 Victoria Trotters’ Derby. It’s no secret Kate and Andy Gath have a big opinion of the son of Majestic Son and no everybody knows why. The way he stormed around the field from near last, out four, five and six wide, then powered clear to win by an increasing 10.1m was something to behold. Majestuoso’s manners were an issue last season when he won two of nine runs, but he’s come back and although still green at times, he’s won eight of his nine starts this term. All Cashed Up led and ran well for second despite having every chance, while Kiwi raider Kratos couldn’t match Majestuoso’s brilliance, but worked home quite well for third. Majestuoso’s win capped a magical 30 minutes for the Gaths with Tornado Valley sparkling in his first-up win in the free-for-all. Despite drawing the back row and settling third-last while main danger Big Jack Hammer led, Tornado Valley launched a three-wide run from the 700m without cover and toyed with his rivals. Kate Gath just nursed him down the straight to win by 8.9m in a slick 1min57.9sec mile rate for 2190m. Arguably it was as impressive as Tornado Valley’s ever looked. ________________________________________________________________________________ ANOTHER of the highlights on Redwood Day was the winning return of former superstar juvenile trotter Wobelee. The Alison and Chris Alford-trained four-year-old did everything asked of him and won well after working to the front from a wide draw and dictating terms. It was Wobelee’s first run back after 13 months sidelined by injury. Kiwis will remember he ran third when clearly not at his top in the 3YO Jewels trotting final at Cambridge in June, last year. Wobelee’s raced 20 times for 15 wins, three seconds and two thirds.   Adam Hamilton

AUSSIE punters expect Kiwi trainer Phil Williamson to steal the show at Australia’s biggest trotting meeting on Sunday.  Williamson’s exciting pair Ultimate Stride and Liberty Stride dominate opening betting markets in their respective Group 1 assignments.  Ultimate Stride, who looked so good winning his only Aussie run, is a $2.10 favourite in the $50,000 Group 1 Volstead Redwood Classic for baby trotters.  Ultimate Stride has barrier nine – two-out on the back row – in the standing start feature.  And filly Liberty Stride, who stunned locals with a monstrous first Aussie wins, is $2.15 against the boys after drawing gate four in the $75,000 Group 1 Haras Des Trotteurs Victoria Trotters’ Derby.  Williamson has booked former Kiwi driver Anthony Butt for both races.  Butt replaced Chris Alford on Ultimate Stride as Alford is committed to his own family runner, Dreamee, from gate six.  Ultimate Stride’s main danger looks to be local Powerkeg, who he did beat easily last outing.  In the Derby, another Kiwi Kratos from the John and Josh Dickie barn is a clear $3.60 second elect despite the back row (gate 10).  The other highlight of the massive day is the return to racing of Inter Dominion trotting champion Tornado Valley in a free-for-all (race seven).  Tornado Valley missed a planned return race a couple weeks back with a minor setback.  Despite being first-up for almost five months and drawing the back row (gate nine), Tornado Valley is still a $1.90 favourite.  Main dangers will be fellow Inter Dominion finalists Big Jack Hammer (gate six, $3.50) and Save Our Pennys (gate seven, $6).   Adam Hamilton

The men who have been there, done that suggest the best run as much as the best horse will win tomorrow night’s $150,000 Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park. And while the TAB market says the young gun four-year-olds have the wood on their rivals the race is shaping as one of the most even group ones at Alexandra Park in years. Last Friday’s Anzac Cup winner Sundees Son shares the $4 favouritism with fellow four-year-old Majestic Man as bookmakers signal what they see as a changing of the guard in the open class trotting ranks. But Majestic Man’s trainer Phil Williamson says while he couldn’t be happier going into the race the youngsters will need more than sheer ability on their side. “It is a very good race and there are plenty of winning chances,” says Williamson, one of only two trainers in the race to have won both the Rowe Cup and the Dominion, New Zealand’s two marquee trotting races. “I think a lot of it will come down to the run and the horse who has the luck. “This field is that even and at this level luck is crucial. I think Majestic Man will handle barrier one and if he steps away and can trail or be three back on the markers I’ll be happy. “But as good as both him and Sundees Son were last week they can’t just expect to beat these older horses with speed because 3200m is a different type of race. “So yes we can win but it won’t be easy. These races never are.” That opinion is shared by Paul Nairn, the only other trainer in the race who has won both the Rowe and the Dominion. He has Ronald J and Habibi Inta in the Rowe and thinks both can get closer than their fifth and sixths in the Anzac Cup. “Both of them had a bit of bad luck last week, Ronald J got held up a bit and Habibi Inta was hitting the stays on his sulky, which we will fix for this week. “But they are only two of about six or eight chances in the race. “One of the big things in these races is having a horse who can get away good from the standing start and get to the marker pegs because that is a huge help. “Over the 3200m it can be very hard to win if you are covering extra ground in the running line.”
 That would appear to be the problem for horses like defending champion Speeding Spur and Sundees Son, both of whom have to give away starts from the second line and will therefore almost certainly be three wide at some stage. That didn’t bother Sundees Son over 2200m last Friday and he may be so brilliant and in the zone he can still win but he did gallop shortly after the line last Friday so is still very much a take on trust horse at the early stage of his open class career. While the Rowe Cup has a huge array of winning hopes the $100,000 Trotting Derby looks to have two and once against Nairn should be to the fore with Lotamaucle. He was nearly 20-1 when he beat Enhance Your Calm in the NZ Trot Derby last month but is only $2.90 to repeat that as he appears to be a happy horse while Enhance Your Calm bungled his Alexandra Park debut becoming unbalanced and galloping early. The best version of Enhance Your Calm may be too fast for Lotamuscle but even if the favourite can lead it looks like Lotamuscle could be sitting on his back in the trail and that could make for an uncomfortable watch for Enhance Your Calm’s backers. Turn It Up ($1.65)as again opened favourite over stablemate Spankem ($3.60) even though the latter used his better barrier draw to win last Friday’s Taylor Mile and has that advantage again.   Michael Guerin

Champion trotting trainer Phil Williamson is looking forward to taking a horse you have never heard of to the races at Addington tonight just as much as his stable star. Because debutant two-year-old Ultimate Stride won't remain unknown for long. That is how high an opinion Williamson has of last season's trotting sales-topping yearling heading into the two-year-old trot at Addington tonight. Ultimate Stride has only had a handful of workouts and trials but Williamson says he is at least as good as Oscar Bonevena, the star two-year-old he trained last season until he was sold for big money. "He is pretty smart but he might need to be from the second line," says Williamson, who leads the national trainers premiership for trotting wins. "Ideally he would have drawn the front line and could have made his own luck and off the second line it is not as easy to be confident. "But I think he is a pretty good horse and he can still win." Williamson also lines up his stable star Majestic Man in tonight's four and five-year-old trot but says his chances might depend on the readiness of key rival Winterfell. "It is a good field and I respect a horse like Sundees Son but Winterfell is a horse we haven't beaten yet so if he is at his best maybe we will struggle to beat him. "Don't get me wrong, our horse is a genuine open class horse but I can't tip him to beat Winterfell until we have done it before." Winterfell's stablemate Ultimate Sniper looks close to a good thing in tonight's Flying Stakes, the lead-up to the NZ Derby in two weeks. The race of the night at Addington will almost certainly be the clash of group one winners like Sheriff, A G's White Socks, Elle Mac and Eamon Maguire in the $30,000 free-for-all, with the early tempo the key as those who work hard could be left sitting ducks. At Alexandra Park tonight On The Cards will enjoy not having to face stablemate Jack's Legend in the main pace after finishing a close second to him in his last three starts. Back into a slightly easier grade the rugged pacer should be able to use his gate speed to go forward and control race six and looks one of the better bets of the night, along with Heavyweight Hero in the main trot after it took Massive Metro to beat him last start.   Michael Guerin

The future of one of New Zealand’s most talented young trotters is in doubt.  Oscar Bonevena is set to miss most if not all of the remainder of the season and trainer Mark Purdon admits the three-year-old’s career is in doubt.  “I hope that isn’t the case but it could be,” says Purdon.  Oscar Bonevena has developed a cyst in one of his knees and Purdon says vets suggest it could be a degenerative problem.  “We are still learning about it as our vet said it is so rare it is something they see only every couple of years,” said Purdon. “So we are seeking advice from experts in this sort of thing from overseas but he won’t be racing any time soon and at best will need a long spell.”  There is obvious disappointment in Purdon’s voice as while he also trains NZ’s top rated three-year-old trotter in Enhance Your Calm, he has a soft spot for Oscar Bonevena, who could be every bit as good as his stablemate.  Purdon purchased the then juvenile last season from Phil Williamson for former Kiwi trainer now based in the US, Chris Ryder, and Purdon’s own father, training legend Roy Purdon.  While he galloped at the Jewels, Oscar Bonevena reminded everybody how good he was with a fresh-up win at Alexandra Park in December which was followed by an enormous second there on New Years Eve when he trotted 3:26.2 for the 2700m, a full second inside Heavyweight Hero’s three-year-old national record.  “That was a huge run that day and he is a very good horse in the making so it is very disappointing to have this sort of problem with him,” said Purdon. With Oscar Bonevena sidelined indefinitely, Enhance Your Calm will be the stable flagbearer in the major three-year-old trots.  The first of those is the NZ Derby on April 5 and he will have a lead-up in the Sires’ Stakes prelude there on Friday week, a race which has been rescheduled from last Friday’s cancelled Addington meeting. “He is going very well and would be as good as any three-year-old I have had at this stage of the season.”  After the NZ Derby, Enhance Your Calm will head to Auckland for the Sires’ Stakes and Northern Trot Derby before rounding out his season in the Jewels.  “I think that will do him, we probably wouldn’t go to Victoria with him.” Michael Guerin

The drive by Brad Williamson set up the win for talented trotter Majestic Man in the Group Three Southern Lights at Ascot Park today (Saturday). When fthe avourite Kings Landing made the lead, his driver Tim Williams put the brakes on and Williamson was having none of that. With 2000 metres to run, in the lightning move, he shot Majestic Man forward and challenged the leader. “To be honest he’s a bit more of a speed horse but when Tim got to the front he backed off the tempo. I couldn’t allow that to happen. We had to get in a positive position,” he said. With 1400 metres to run Williamson was on top with the Majestic Son four year old and at the finish had half a neck to spare on Kings Landing which ran home up the passing lane. Williamson says there was confidence around the stable that the four year old would perform well despite  having been away from racing for 65 days. He trialled at Oamaru last Saturday winning his heat by six lengths. “He trialled exceptional. If you’d seen it you would have thought he was in with a very good show. He got home in 27 seconds and change, and was hard held. We had a lot of confidence that he was fit and ready.” It was a super effort by his trainer Phil Williamson to get Majestic Man ready. And it was a bit of a case of revenge as Kings Landing had beaten Majestic Man on Show Day at Addington. “A similar thing happened on Show Day. The speed wasn’t overly hot. Mark (Purdon) was up parked and he sprinted home and beat me. Today was the opposite.” The win was Majestic Man’s eighth in only nineteen starts. Back to the birdcage after win number eight - Photo Bruce Stewart. “We thought a bit of him as a young horse and he won the Two Year Old Sires Stakes Final but weakened right off quite badly after the run. He’s strengthening up and with hard racing he's got better as he’s got older. He’s still got to step up to the open graders yet.” The Jewels is well and truly on Majestic Man’s radar and another target is also possible.       “The Rowe Cup's been mentioned if he’s going good enough.” Majestic Man is raced by the Griffin Syndicate. Winning connections and sponsor - Photo Bruce Stewart  It was the fourth time Phil Williamson has won the Southern Lights. His previous winners were; Mystic Son (2009), Springbank Sam (2013) and Monty Python (2017). He brought his team south early this week, starting two well-bred two year old trotters Cracker Hill and Ultimate Stride at the Winton Workouts on Friday. Cracker Hill is a Muscle Hill – Juneamy Castleton gelding which is trained by Brad. It  beat Ultimate Stride, a Love You colt out of the millionaire trotter One Over Kenny. The winning margin was a nose but both horses we’re extended. Cracker Hill (8) just gets there from Ultimate Stride at the Winton Workouts - Photo Bruce Stewart Ultimate Stride was sold by Lex and Heather Williams of One Over Lodge in Waimate for $160,000 at the 2018 National Sales in Christchurch. He was bought by Australian’s Emilio and Mary Rosati and left with Williamson. Cracker Hill, which was also bred by the Williams, was passed in for $40,000 at the same sale.  Another impressive trotter that had a win on Friday was the Brent McIntyre trained Cuchulainn: a full-brother to the quality trotter Pickett’s Ridge the winner of four of his ten starts. Both are by Skyvalley out the Sundon mare Come Follow Me. Meanwhile Nathan Williamson’s classy trotter Chinese Whisper is staying put for the time being. He was under offer during the week but the deal fell through and he’s expected to have his next start in the province at Wyndham on Saturday.   Bruce Stewart

Winton breeder Neville Skinner had one of those harness racing rarities when his name was in the race book four times for the first race on the card at his home track at Winton on Monday. He bred the winner Only One Way, as well as Helluva Way (5th) and Tommy Tiddler (9th).  All three horses drew next to each other at the barrier. The occasion would have been even rarer if Lucky Me which had drawn five, had started. After a good start driver Matty Williamson took Only One Way straight to the top and he remained there for the entire journey, running out a three and a quarter length win over Star Dude. This was the three year old’s second career start and after the highly promising Chinese Whisper was scratched, he was made a commanding favourite. “Last time in (as a two year old) we thought quite a lot of him but he just weakened off a bit. Although he went quite a nice race (in the New Zealand Two Year Old Trotting Stakes) we thought he might have done a little bit more than he did. Hopefully this time after a break he’ll be a better horse and kick on a bit,” said Williamson. The Skinner trio - Helluva Way (Allan Beck), Only One Way (Matty Williamson) and Tommy Tiddler (Ellie Barron) - Photo Bruce Stewart  Trained by Phil Williamson he’s owned by Neville Skinner, his sister Judy Ward her husband David and their cousin Grant McMaster. The same group owned the ill-fated Alley Way which won eleven races. Matty Williamson says the Majestic Son three year old will still have to improve if he’s to step up to the better grade. “He didn’t steer very well today so hopefully we can iron that out because going up a grade he’ll be wanting to be doing everything right. He was hanging a bit today but he’ll be a lot better for that one.” The winning connections with Maurice Skinner holding the Jimmy Dillion Cup - Photo Bruce Stewart Williamson says the Hambletonian at Ashburton in February will give the team a better idea if the horse is worthy of a start in some of the age group races later in the season. Only One Way is of a breed that former local vet Peter Williams and the Skinner family have had a lot of success with. The breed stems back to the broodmare Princess Way which produced a host of winners for Neville and Judy’s father Maurice including Arbitrator (3), Gregory Peter (6), Arlington (3), Whizz Way (3) and Sundon’s Way (15). No Way is a daughter of Whizz Way. Once again Canterbury based trainers dominated the Southern meeting with Ivan Court winning Race Two with outsider Choice Lustre. Aylesbury trainer Stephen Boyd won with Back In Black, Vi Lee and I’ve Already Told You. All were driven by Mark Jones. It was the first time Boyd had trained three in one day.   Bruce Stewart

New Zealand’s Inter Dominion assault could swell to six after a couple of surprise additions. The annual trans tasman harness racing series returns to Victoria on Saturday week and has the added bonus of the return of the trotting series, which was last held in 2012. Both series will consist of three rounds of heats spread across Victoria and 2760m mobile finals at Melton on December 15 but the series, like last week’s New Zealand Cup, has been hit by the extraordinary number of injuries, retirements and overseas sales in the open class ranks this year. But while a brutal Cup week in Christchurch last week suggested New Zealand could have only two or three reps in the Inters, that number could double. Yesterday was the day many trainers sat down, dusted themselves off and planned the rest of the summer and one of the big winners has been the Auckland and Cambridge summer carnivals, with some of the industry’s glamour names staying home. That will include Thefixer, Dream About Me, Jack’s Legend, Turn It Up, Chase Auckland, Eamon Maguire and Elle Mac in the pacing ranks while Temporale, Lemond and Woodstone will also be coming north rather than heading to Melbourne.  Ultimate Machete, who missed Cup week with a hoof problem, has been on the water walker for the last week and co-trainer Mark Purdon will check on his progress before confirming an Auckland Cup campaign. That leaves the All Stars with Cruz Bromac as their confirmed Inter Dominon pacing hope with the option that Spankem could join him.  “We are still finalising a few different things and will firm everything up later in the week,” said Purdon.  While speedster Star Galleria is out of the Inters and will need a minor surgery, one surprise addition to the Kiwi pacing team could be Pat’s Delight. The Jewels winner has been both luckless and impressive over the last month and trainer Cran Dalgety is leaning toward going to Melbourne as the Inter Dominion final  could be no stronger than the Auckland Cup. “I am talking to the owner about it and he gets the final call but I am keen to go,” says Dalgety. In the trotting series Speeding Spur was always likely to go and after jogging out soundly for trainers John and Josh Dickie on Monday morning he will be in the series barring anything unforseen happening this week And he could be joined by two slightly unexpected fellow Kiwis in Alderbeck and Monty Python. Their trainer Phil Williamson says the Inter trip is on with the pair, who both had no luck in the Dominion last Friday. “I think they are both good enough to go to the series, make the final and get some money in it so we are keen,” says the champion trainer of trotters. But with driving sons Nathan, Brad and Matthew so busy at home, Williamson could be on the lookout for an Australian driver for the pair. Speeding Spur is rated the most likely New Zealand winner of one of an Inter final at $3.80 in most markets, while Tiger Tara heads many Inter Dominion pacing markets although Cruz Bromac could continue to shorten after his NZ Free-For-All win last Friday and once his participation in the series becomes more certain. Other plans for some of the big names from Cup week see three-year-old star Ultimate Sniper coming north for the Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park on December 31 buy intermediate grade speed machine Alta Maestro will stick to a South Island standing start race programme for now to continue to educate him.   Michael Guerin

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