May – 2021

Playboy Cups King

Bruce Stewart

2nd May 2021

The Nathan Williamson trained Pembrook Playboy capped off a remarkable run of the Southern Cups when he won the end of season Southern Country Cups Final on Diamonds Day at Ascot Park today.

From thirteen starts this season the four year old Bettor’s Delight entire has won seven races including the Northern Southland, Invercargill, the Central Otago Cups and the Summer Cup at Addington.

Pembrook Playboy warming up with Nathan Williamson

“It’s been a great season. He’s been the benchmark horse for the free for all horses down here,” said Williamson.

After running in single file for the first part of the 2700 metres Williamson was able to slot into the one one with 1500 metres to run.

At the 400 metres he let Pembrook Playboy go but at that point brother Matty Williamson pinched a break on Deus Ex. Nathan called on Pembrook Playboy to extend.. He got the better of Deus Ex in the last 200 metres and won by half a length.

“He felt bright and happy. It’s just a matter of keeping him healthy and happy. He’s had plenty of racing.”

Pembrook Playboy getting the better of Deus Ex

Owner Chris Alcock and family with sponsor Tom Kilkelly

The win gave Williamson his first $100,000 plus winner and elevated Pembrook Playboy to second in the Four Year Old Diamond behind Copy That.

“We’ll get him up there (to the Jewels) quite early – two or three weeks before. I‘m not sure whether he’ll need another race. There’s a Free for All at Addington in a fortnight which we may run in on the way up.”

Williamson didn’t have much luck with class trotter Chinese Whisper earlier in the day – he broke with 600 metres to run.

“I went up the inside. I was following Sundons Wish who was struggling a bit. I thought I could go inside him and then come back out. On the point of the bend he shied away from the other horse and lugged in and touched a track marker. He got a real fright and jumped off stride. He’s a spooky nervy horse so that was the reason.”

Bettor Talk Art Wins Oaks for Todd

Bruce Stewart

2nd May 2021

“I used to come as a kid and watch these races. Even just to have a horse in a race like this is a big thrill. I’m rapt to have won this one,” commented Woodend Beach trainer Regan Todd after Bettor Talk Art won today’s Macca Lodge/Nevele R Stud Southland Oaks Final at Ascot Park.

Bettor Talk Art warming up with Robbie Close

Todd was born and bred in Wyndham, a thirty minute drive east of Invercargill and worked for Canterbury trainer Mark Jones before branching out on his own in 2011.

“We always enjoy coming down here. It’s always good to catch-up with family and we get pretty well looked after wherever we stay.”

In today’s Group Two feature driver Robbie Close followed early pacemaker Sweet Belle to trail after the first 100 metres.  The favourite Lifes A Beach then took up the running, putting Bettor Talk Art three back on the inside. With 1400 metres to run Better’s Tart and Braeview Kelly progressed forward three wide with Braeview Kelly softening up Lifes A Beach before taking over the lead with 800 metres to run. As the field opened up Close eased Bettor Talk Art off the inside to sit parked for the last part of the 2700 metres which proved to be the winning of the race.

Speaking of that part of the race afterwards Todd said “He drove the horse to perfection. Some of those nice horses did a bit of work early. To the horse’s credit she stuck on because she did a wee bit of work down the back.”

To continue the story, at the 400 Bettor Talk Art and Braeview Kelly raced head to head and Bettor Talk Art held on to beat a brave Lifes A Beach which came again by three quarters of a length with Sweet Belle one a half lengths back in third.

Bettor Talk Art hanging on to beat Lifes A Beach

The winning time was 3-21.2.

Oaks winner returning

HRNZ’s  Gary Woodham offering trainer Regan Todd part of the winning stake – a plate of sandwiches whilst Southern Harness Board member Murray Little looks on.

Winning connections, sponsors and club officals

Bettor Talk Art was bred by Steve and Maureen O’Brien. Steve held a training license for a number of years training twenty winners, including the dam of Bettor Talk Art – Lets Talk Art which won six races.

“Mark Jones trained a horse called Lets Hustle for them which was a full brother. He came to us late in his career and then this filly came along. She didn’t look that great early on but to her credit she’s come to it. We’ve given her a good spell here and there. She’s just got better and better,” stated Todd.

And Oh The Relief!

Bruce Stewart

2nd May 2021

The relief was there for all to see at Ascot Park today when star three year old Ragazzo Mach returned to winning form, taking out the Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes for Branxholme trainer driver Nathan Williamson.

“There was a lot of pressure with that horse. He was sold for a big figure and I’m so rapt for the owners (Swandoo Harness Racing Pty Limited Syndicate). They’re just great people and put a lot into the game and I wish them all the best with the horse once he gets to WA (West Australia),” Williamson said after the five and a half length win and a flourish of the whip at the end of the race.

Ragazzo Mach warming up in the Alabar colours

It was also the first time the Southland trainer has won the three year old feature. He finished second in last season’s edition with Pembrook Playboy who was beaten by Burnham Boy, and in 2015 Tas Man Bromac trained by Williamson was beaten by a nose by I’m Full Of  Excuses.

“It’s been my bogey race. Franco Santino ran third one year. I’ve just had awful draws and terrible runs.”

Talking of luck, Ragazzo Mach had very little of it in the two Addington races   among the elite three year olds prior to today’s race at home, and Williamson was keen to put both the Flying Stakes and Derby behind him.

“I think he was going through a bit of a growth spurt. On reflection he probably wasn’t at his best although he seemed great.”

In today’s $40,000 feature Yorokobi was taken to the front from the gate with Ragazzo Mach settling fifth on the outside.

“We stayed out of that early burn until they sorted themselves out.”

With 1600 metres to run Williamson took Ragazzo Mach forward three wide to take the lead.

“I worked him into it and he was back to his best today.”

At the 400 metres Williamson let the colt run and he quickly opened up the field with just Yorokobi staying in touch. But with 100 metres to run Williamson slapped the reins and he shot clear to win easily in 3-17.7 smashing the race track and Southland record of 3-19.1 held jointly by Highview Tommy and Eamon Maguire. Third placegetter Idealism came in eight and a half lengths behind.

Williamson saluting the crowd after Ragazzo Mach’s win in the Supremacy

“He’s such a great horse running a track record and (he) finished the race off in 26 (26.9 seconds).  He’s a great stayer. It’s just a shame we didn’t draw well in the Derby.”

Winning connections, sponsors and club officials

The winning stake today elevated Ragazzo Mach to fifth in next month’s Three Year Old Emerald at Cambridge.

“He may race at Winton in a fortnight. We’ll just try and plan it so we’re right on Jewels day.”

Always B Miki Progeny Dominate Diamond Creek Farm Classic

Bruce Stewart

2nd May 2021

Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray won his first Group race today when Always B Miki gelding You’re So Fine won the Group Two Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic.

The win was the first by a Southland trained horse in the race’s seven year history.

Asked after the presentation if it was a career hightlight, Gray said “Hell yeah.”

You’re So Fine and Nathan Williamson warming up

Duke Of Cornwell and Cantfindabettorman took turns at setting a solid pace in front. With a lap to run Cantfindabettorman led with second favourite Franco Indie sitting parked. Driver Nathan Williamson was sitting three back on the inside with You’re So Fine. With 600 metres to run he was able to push off the inside to track favourite Republican Party forward.

Inside the 400 metres Williamson elected to run You’re So Fine up the inside. He then moved off the inside and was able to push out another width before coming down the middle of the track. He let down nicely to win by two lengths with another son of Always B Miki Franco Indie finishing second.

You’re So Fine extending out to win The Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic.

“……. he’s a genius. Nath’s a great mate and great horseman,” said Gray.

The winning time of 2-39.6 was a national, new race, track and Southland record. The previous record of 2-40.6 was held by 2018 Diamond Creek Farm winner A Bettor Act.

Returning to the birdcage

The MCC Syndicate and sponsors with You’re So Fine

You’re So Fine gave punters an indication he was a serious racehorse when running third in last month’s Kindergarten Stakes and Gray was confident of a good run today in Southland’s richest harness race.

“We had a bit of a foot issue before the Kindie but I was rapt with his workout the other day and I’ve been happy with his work since.”

You’re So Fine is out of the Falcon Seelster mare Syriana and is a half-brother to the well preformed Meticulous which won nine races. He’s part of the famed Black Watch family with has second dam being Corbie.

“It was a great thrill to win that for Brett. He’s an underrated horse. Southland had a great day. Regan (Todd) is a Southlander so we’ve finally held our own,” said Williamson.

You’re So Fine was bought by the MCC syndicate at the 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sales for $14,000 and is named after the Toni Basil song Hey Mickey which includes the line ‘You’re So Fine You Blow my Mind Hey Mickey.’

The fifteen strong Makarewa Country Club (MCC) syndicate has raced horses  for twenty seven years.

“It’s a great syndicate. We’ve bought a few at the sales and had a bit of success. It’s working out pretty good,” Gray said.

The syndicate is managed by Errol Forde and includes Bernie Forde, Margaret West, Darryl Hewitson, Ack McLeod, Bob McKay, Mike Booth, Philippa Blackler, Ann Malcolm, Jenny McIvor, John Flynn, Donna Herrick, Brian Butson and Murray Lodge.

“Most of the syndicate live (in) or are from the area. It’s the biggest thrill I’ve had in harness racing,” said secretary Ann Malcolm.

Ron Barron was one of the founding members and initially trained the syndicate horses. Son Tony also trained for the group but when he moved to Canterbury Brett Gray took over.

The MCC Syndicate also races gallopers, with shares in the well preformed City Slicker and Western Dreams.

“He’s a pretty cool handsome dude at home. We love him and he commands plenty of attention,” Gray said.

You’re So Fine’s sire Always B Miki is owned by the race’s sponsors Diamond Creek Farm and stands at Nevele R Stud in New Zealand. He was a 1-46 horse in America winning over two and a half million dollars. He’s the fastest horse of all time and was named 2016 US Horse of the Year. He became the only horse to win a race in a sub 1-47 mile time more than once – he did it four times.

His oldest progeny are two year olds and already he’s left nine qualifiers and three race day winners.

Following today’s win Gray is unsure as to where the gelding will go next.

“I was thinking about turning him out after this but I’d just like to check on a couple of things like the sales series. I definitely won’t be going to the Jewels. Nath and I think he’ll make a very good three year old and they’ve got to have a break somewhere.”

Diamond Creek Farm Classic Great Result For Sponsor

Bruce Stewart

8th May 2021

The running of the Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic provided a perfect result for its sponsor.

Southland trained You’re So Fine in the hands of Nathan Williamson won the Group Two feature, beating Franco Indie by two lengths with another five lengths back to third         placegetter Cantfindabettorman. Both You’re So Fine and Franco Indie were sired by Diamond Creek Farm stallion Always B Miki.

You’re So Fine

“Diamond Creek Farm and Always B Miki syndicate partners are thrilled with his success both domestically and internationally. In the US, he currently sits at number two (in the stallion list) behind the late, great Somebeachsomewhere in 3 year old earnings,”said Diamond Creek Farm representative Shaun Laungani.

In America last weekend Always B Miki’s gelded son Southwind Gendry, won the first leg of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in 1:49.4.

“We anxiously anticipate the campaign of Southwind Gendry and undefeated Breeders Crown Champion and Two Year Old Pacing Colt of the Year, Perfect Sting. With great early results in New Zealand and Australia coupled with the return of some of the top young pacers from last year, the future for Always B Miki is extremely bright.”

Diamond Creek Farm also owns the sire of the third place getter Cantfindabettorman (by Sweet Lou).

This season’s edition drew the biggest field in the race’s short history with ten runners facing the starter. This was the first time a Southland trained horse has won the Group Two feature and a record number of Southland trained horse (5) fronted up.

The winning time of 2-39.6 (1-56.7 mile rate) was a race, track, Southland and New Zealand record.

You’re So Fine was purchased by Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray at the New Zealand Standardbred Sales in Christchurch for the MCC syndicate for $14,000.

The Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic was initiated by Southern Bred Southern Reared. This year was the sixth running of the race and this year’s stake of $50,000 was the largest staked race in the province this season.

The race was also popular with punters who wagered $126,253 on the race. The only race with a higher turnover was the Southland Oaks which recorded $147,527. Diamonds Day total turnover was $1,155,284.

Sweet Home – Lynryd Skynryd

Bruce Stewart

8th May 2021

Mister consistent Lynryd Skynryd capped off his season with his second win at Ascot Park today.

The five year old trained at Ascot Park by Jack Tither made the most of a handy draw and was taken straight to the top by junior driver Kerryn Tomlinson. From there he was never headed. The winning margin was a length and a quarter.

Lynryd Skynryd with a lap to run

Named by part owner Narelle Pollock after the band Lynryd Skynryd whose biggest hit was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ Tither said the giant gelding was always going to take time.

“Hopefully time will be his friend but we’ll find out next year. He’s done a lot better this season than I thought he would. I thought we’d have to wait until he’s six and fills out a bit,” he said.

At the finish.

The big fella heading back

By A Rocknroll Dance, Lynryd Skynryd seems to race best when he’s in front.

“He loves it in front.”

The gelding is out of the Christian Cullen mare Shez Windermere and was bred by Tithers father-in- law Murray Faul. The mare is now owned by Otautau breeder Brent Smith. Her six foals of racing age have all qualified with RnR Windermere winning five races and BD Windermere winning four here, and another five in Australia.

Headache Horse Tolkien Gets Another Win

Bruce Stewart

8th May 2021

“That’s as good as he’s gone,” trainer driver Kirk Larsen said after Tolkien won his fourth race at Ascot Park today.

“He hasn’t been an easy horse. He’s got a real quirky nature and is his own boss. He trains well at home but you just don’t know which horse is going to turn up on the day.”

Tolkien warming up

Consequently the gelding has been a very difficult horse to follow both for his trainer and punters, but he had a few things in his favour today.

“Being on the second row I thought that would help which it did. If he draws two or three on the front and there’s a delay and they muck around he loses it.”

Although he ran down the track at his last starts, his previous two runs had been good.

“The last start he missed away but before that he raced behind the mobile which he loves but you don’t get that many down here.”

Larsen said the horse normally gets worked up while travelling to the races or in his box prior to the race but today was different.

“Normally in the float he’s a bloody idiot – he rocks and rolls and mucks around but today for some reason he was as calm as anything. I’ve struck him like that a couple of times. Anytime he’s been like that, he’s gone pretty well.”

After trotting off the mark today Larsen settled the five year old midfield on the outside. As other horses started to improve at the 600 he had to give up his good spot and move Tolkien around the field.

“He felt extra good. When I peeled, I didn’t really want to go but I had to get handy.”

At the 300 he had trotted up to the leader Palisade and hit the lead on straightening. He beat  Insist The Win by two and a quarter lengths.

“For some reason he’s trotting the bends a lot better. He always used to crab the bends and run in a bit but now he’s actually running out and since he’s been doing that he’s trotting the bends a lot better.”

Tolkien winning for Kirk Larsen

Heading to the birdcage

Tolkien is owned by Lynette Philpot and Larsen’s son Tristan. Philpot raced Auckland Cup winner Howard Bromac from the Larsen stable.

“Michelle’s (Tristan’s mother) sister Susan Hayes was actually in the horse as well but she gave her share to Tristan for this eighteenth birthday.”

So after a frustrating run of luck and a few ‘outs’ the Larsen’s are rewarded by a trotter that hasn’t finished winning yet.

“There was a time when he was frustrating me so much I was going to put him on Gavelhouse (auction site) but we stuck with him and he’s won two since then.”

Larsen says the stable has a good number of young trotters coming through.

“Tristan has always been keen on the trotters and we’ve got a few around us. They have three trots a day now so if you haven’t got one you’re missing out. I remember working at Bryce Buchanan’s. They had ten sets of bell boots and shoes welded inside other shoes. She was a bit of a battle to get them going but trotters are so much better these days.”

Ideal BB Wins For Faithful

Bruce Stewart

8th May 2021

Winton trainer Chelsea Faithful was expecting new recruit Ideal BB to run well at Ascot Park today, but getting a win did surprise her.

“I was expecting her to go nice but not to win like that,” she said.

Chelsea Faithful

Ideal BB settled third last early avoiding an early galloper before running two back on the outside. At the 400 driver Nathan Williamson let the mare slide forward and she let down nicely centre track to get up and beat pacemaker Superfast by two and a quarter lengths. The winning time of 2-45.9 was respectable on a cold day.

“I thought she’d be short for the run today and she will improve. She’ll win another one relatively easily I think.”

Shortly after the finish Ideal BB looked to be in trouble as he galloped and had to be taken to the inside of the track.

“I stopped watching and everyone said ‘what happened to your horse. Did it break its leg?’ She pulled a shoe just before the finish putting in a couple of rough ones. It looked a lot worse than it actually was.”

Ideal BB and Nathan Williamson winning – Photo Monica Toretto

Ideal BB qualified for Kirk Larsen at Winton in October 2019 and had two race day starts from the stable – the last 12 months ago.

“Kirk did all the work with her. She hasn’t raced for a year. She was spelled to strengthen up because she’s quite a big mare.”

Faithful has had the American Ideal mare for three months.

“She’s had two workouts for me. The first one she went fair but in the second I was much happier with her as she found the line nicely.”

Ideal BB is raced by Dunedin Doctor Onn Chin who’s had lots of success with the Tartan breed, which he’s had for many years.

“Onn have been pretty good to me let me have a go with them. The one’s I’ve got here at the moment are not superstars but they’re honest and go good races every week. These are their last race horses. Kirk liked her (Ideal BB) but she hadn’t shown too much. Coming here was a change and something different. Being in a smaller stable suits her because she’s quite an anxious horse. She does a bit of thinking but she loves the one on one (attention).”

Recently retired Tartan Trilogy is still at the stable.

“He’s been a pest. He’s the stable GP at the moment. He keeps them all in line. I’ve just got Tartan Raider to come back.”

Faithfuls success, and the way in which she turns her horse out on race day, mean her services have been in demand, but she has limited stable space.

“It’s frustrating at the moment. I’ve got so many horses here that I don’t have enough boxes for and some of them have to stay outside. I don’t really like paddock training them especially in winter. I’m waiting for the builder to come and put up two more boxes which will be ideal.”

Faithful is now looking at starting Ideal BB in a junior driver’s race.

“They’re not that easy to win at times. I’ll look to get Mark Hurrell to drive her but he’s suspended at the moment so it’ll depend on when he gets back.

Meanwhile stable star Pay Me Speedy is likely to line up at Addington this Friday.

“It’s Premier night and there’s a $20,000 race there for her. She’s good enough to go so there’s no point in shying away. It’s a 2600 metre mobile which should suit her down to the ground.”

It’ll be the first time the young trainer has ventured to the metropolitan track. “I’m a bit nervous already. I’ll be a good experience for both her and me. It’ll make her grow up.”

Faithful works for Williamson during the day and trains her own horses when she can.

“I’ve got to go now and work Tartan Roxy.”

Today’s win was one of four for Williamson.