YEAR: 2023

Muscle Mountain’s rivals can expect the heat to get even more intense after the trotting star claimed his second win in the Fred Shaw Memorial Group 1 New Zealand Trotting Championship.

Backers of the red-hot favourite only had cause for concern in the last 100m of the Addington feature, when the Greg and Nina Hope trained six-year-old appeared to lose concentration.

Driver Ben Hope stoked up the big striding squaregaiter and he went one better than his second to Sundees Son in last year’s edition.

Hope overcame an incredibly challenging seven days to win the race after being stuck down with what doctors thought was a bacterial infection which had him unwell into the early part of this week.

The reinsman controlled the pace with Muscle Mountain, speeding home in quick sectionals to score in a time that was seven seconds slower than last year’s running.
Though thrilled to win, Hope’s first thoughts were of regret because his ‘stackem up and sprintem home’ tactics didn’t let Muscle Mountain show off his huge motor.
“I don’t think I did the horse justice with how I judged the pace but lucky enough he’s superstar and was able to overcome it,” Hope said.

That seems bad news for the horse’s rivals on his upcoming North Island campaign.
The Hope camp plan to bypass the upcoming Waikato Trotters Flying Mile before the targeting the Lyell Creek Stakes.

Don’t be surprised if Ben Hope lets his superstar trotter roll along at Alexandra Park following the small fright he gave the reinsman in the late stages of Friday night’s feature.

Aardiebythehill was excellent in second and looked a winning chance when making ground in the late stages as Muscle Mountain shortened stride.
Midnight Dash ran into third ahead of Oscar Bonavena who ran a big race, sitting parked after losing ground after a rare early gallop.

Credit : Jonny Turner, HRNZ News 1 April 2023

Credit: Jonny Turner


YEAR: 2022

A theme of nothing going to plan this spring continued for Self Assured until the home turn in the star pacer’s brilliant come from behind victory in the Group 1 New Zealand Free-For-All.
The 2020 New Zealand Cup winner showed exactly how devastating he can be when flying home from last to clinch victory in the Show Day feature, just denying Aussie raider Majestic Cruiser.
Seeing Mark Purdon sitting last and giving the leaders a huge start with a warm second elect was an unusual sight for Self Assured’s backers to have to encounter at Addington on Friday.
But it was because the pacer was the early loser amid a hectic start to the New Zealand Free-For-All.
So often praised for his training, it was Purdon’s cool, calm and collected drive that won the race.
“There were a few going out early and it looked like I was going to end up four-wide,” Purdon said. ]
“I thought if I got on Majestic Cruiser’s back, he would want to put him in the race.”
“And he did, down the back he was the first to come out before Zac and Old Town Road pushed him out.”
“When they started to roll, I was able to get my horse into the clear, so it worked out well.”
Self Assured swept up to the leaders inside the final 150m, but he needed to dig deep to win.
And he did exactly that under Purdon’s urgings.
“He had to dig in to get there and he did, it was a great effort,” Purdon said.
The top seed among New Zealand’s open class ranks through the summer and autumn, Self Assured’s spring campaign hit a brick wall last month when he went a shocking race by his standards in the Ashburton Flying Stakes.
The Purdon-Cullen camp resurrected Self Assured’s form with treatment for spring-like complaints.
“He disappointed us in the Free-For-All last year, in the springtime he seems to be affected by allergy-type issues that irritate him,” Purdon said.
“Having that knowledge from last year was really helpful, so we got onto it straight away after Ashburton.”
Majestic Cruiser looked to have the New Zealand Free-For-All won until Self Assured lunged late to win.
Denied twice during New Zealand Cup Week following his second in the New Zealand Cup, trainer Jason Grimson gets some small consolation in that his pacer at least brings exceptional form to a very weak upcoming Interdominion series in Victoria.
Old Town Road dug in for a third after launching a huge run before the home turn.
In doing so, the northern star grabbed a well-deserved placing after smashing the clock with his sectionals in the New Zealand Cup.

Credit: Johnny Turner HRNZ News 11 Nov 2022


YEAR: 2022

Champion trainer Mark Purdon wasn’t holding back in his praise for Millwood Nike when the superstar filly remained unbeaten at Addington on Friday.

Our best juvenile filly cemented that claim by overcoming a second line draw to smash her rivals in the $138,000 Dunstan Feeds Sires’ Stakes Fillies Final.

That made it seven wins from as many starts and the hot tempo played into her hands as her strength became telling factor in the Group 1.

Purdon says that strength, and just about everything else about Millwood Nike, makes her as good as any juvenile filly he and his All Stars partners have trained.
“We have had some very good ones of course but at this stage of her career she would be as good as any of them,” he offered.

“She has it all. She is strong, very fast and has a great will to win.

“What she did today was very, very impressive.”
Purdon has been associated with great juvenile fillies his whole career dating back to driving ones like Scuse Me in the early 1990s right through to Amazing Dream and True Fantasy in the last two years.

His greatest ever female pacer Adore Me actually didn’t race at two so can’t be rated on her juvenile ability but it is hard to make an argument any of the other freshman fillies have been any better than Millwood Nike.

She will now head to the Ace Of Diamonds at the new Grand Prix meeting at Addington on December 4 before she faces a fast turnaround to start her three-year-old season.

While juvenile fillies used to, on the whole, finish their season at the Jewels in June and have no major Group 1 target until Christmas, Millwood Nike won’t be able to get to the paddock until mid December and will need to be turned around a lot quicker for the first three years features early in the New Year.

“I think she is the type of filly who will handle that if we go down that path,” says Purdon.

Millwood Nike rated 1:54.7 for the 1980m and while all the honours were with there was plenty of courage from leader Kahlua Flybye, who true to co-trainer Steve Telfer’s words before the race held the lead and ran them hard.

Credit: Michael Guerin HRNZ News 11 Nov 2022


YEAR: 2022

Robert Dunn has long held Master Musician as the best horse he has trained, his email address even bears the pacers name, but his near 30-year reign in that pinnacle spot could be coming to an end.

Sundees Son is quickly coming after that crown and inched closer at Addington Raceway on Friday when taking out the Gr.1 Fred Shaw Memorial NZ Trotting Championship (2600m).

It was the ninth Group One victory for the seven-year-old gelding and he once again stamped himself as the top trotter of the modern era in New Zealand.

Sundees Son

From his ace draw, Sundees Son was crossed early by Muscle Mountain, however, driver John Dunn immediately sent his charge forward to recapture the lead.

In his customary style, Sundees Son ran his opposition into the ground, posting a new New Zealand record of 3:10.4 for the 2600m mobile trip, beating a brave Muscle Mountain by 1-3/4 lengths.

“It was a great drive by Johnny,” said Dunn, who trains in partnership with his daughter-in-law Jenna.
“You could see him looking across and he knew Ben (Hope, driver of Muscle Mountain) had the momentum and he did the right thing in not pushing Sundees Son to try and hold him.

“Luckily enough there was enough space to come out straight away. It was a perfect drive by Johnny, as per usual.

“He seems to have that ability to run most of them into the ground. When he is in that zone, he is very hard to get past.

“The horse gets all the accolades he deserves; he is just unreal.”

Sundees Son has comfortably earnt the title as the best trotter Dunn has trained, and he said he has drawn alongside two stable predecessors that have earnt champion status in his eyes.
“Master Musician and Mainland Banner were two champions in their own right and he is up there with them,” Dunn said.

I am pretty privileged to have had three champions in our care, it has been pretty special.

“He is getting towards the top of the tree because he has had nine Group Ones and there could be another couple to come yet.”

Sundees Son will get the opportunity to add to his Group One tally when he heads north to Auckland this weekend to tackle a number of autumn feature races in the coming month.

“He is coming north on Sunday along with Five Wise Men, who I would say Craig (Edmonds, co-trainer of Five Wise Men and travelling foreman for Dunn’s stable) would be absolutely thrilled with running third, and Highgrove.
“Highgrove will target the Sires Stakes and Derby, and Sundees Son will have the National Trot, ANZAC and Rowe Cups.

“If he happened to win all three, dare I say it, I might have to put him ahead of the Master, but that is going to break my heart saying that.”

Credit : Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk, 9 April 2022

Credit: Joshua Smith


YEAR: 2022

The experience was completely different, but the result was exactly the same when Copy That joined harness racing’s greats as a two-time IRT New Zealand Cup winner at Addington on Tuesday.
Driver Blair Orange brilliantly constructed a carbon copy of the star pacer’s 2021 victory in New Zealand’s greatest race to seal the five-year-old’s place in the harness racing history books as a modern-day great.
Trainer Ray Green watched on from his Auckland living room as his brilliant horse won last year’s New Zealand Cup in front of a Covid-restricted crowd.
This year, the veteran trainer got to soak in every minute of the build up to his horse’s cup defence in front of a packed house at Addington.
Many of them were well-wishers and Green loved every minute of it.
“It is great, there is a real atmosphere here and I think this horse has got a real following now,” the trainer said.
“A lot of people were cheering him on and wishing us well and it is great that he was able to do it for them.”
“The game needs these kind of horses.”
A second New Zealand Cup victory continued the epic journey Green’s wife Debbie has been on with Copy That.
She picked the horse out of a weanling sale for a bargain price five years ago and the pair have been inseparable since.
“Debbie is pretty close to the horse, she loves him,” Green said.

The Greens sold Copy That to stable clients Merv and Meg Butterworth who were also denied the chance to see their star horse win at Addington last year.
But the Victorian couple were on hand to collect their third New Zealand Cup trophy, also having won the great race with Arden Rooney in 2015.
Though it may have looked that way to Cup Day patrons who were back at Addington after a two-year hiatus, it wasn’t just a matter of Copy That turning up and repeating the dose in his cup defence.
Green perfectly plotted the massive task of bringing Copy That back to peak athleticism following a hind injury soon after last year’s win.
And he got his timing absolutely spot on.
“We took a few punts along the way to get him back to his best, like taking him to Australia,” Green said.
Orange was full of praise for Green’s brilliant training performance as he returned Copy That to his best.
Though the reinsman clearly controlled the race tempo, the victory wasn’t handed to Copy That on a platter.
The pacer copped pressure from the bell, before going on to register the third-fastest winning time in New Zealand Cup history - 3:54.00.
“It shows just what a good horse [Copy That] is and Ray has done a fantastic job to get him back from Australia at full fitness, and at the top of his game,” Orange said.
Majestic Cruiser got within three-quarters of a length at the finish, charging home from well off the pace to run second.
The Australian raider got stuck behind tiring horses before the home turn, before launching his brilliant finish.
Spankem took third after trailing the winner throughout, recording his third New Zealand Cup placing.
Spankem held his placing after a protest following some hope-straight bumping with his stablemate Akuta, who was excellent in fourth.

Credit: Johnny Turner HRNZ News 8 Nov 2022


YEAR: 2022

Hotpot Don't Stop Dreaming won the $170,000 Woodlands Stud Sires' Stakes Final, giving the All Stars their second Group 1 win of the afternoon.

Driven by Mark Purdon, Don't Stop Dreaming made the most of his front row draw (2) to take the lead early but handed up to the unbeaten Merlin as he looped the field from his poor draw (15) and into the lead. Merlin, who went into the race with eight wins from as many starts, was super brave finishing fourth, with Don't Stop Dreaming's stablemate Sherlock also impressive in finishing second with Alta Meteor third. Don't Stop Dreaming paid $1.70 and $1.20.

Many may have been surprised with Purdon's tactic to take the trail with the favourite but he later said it "was the winning of the race"
"I was keen to stay in front but I could see that horse was over racing so had no option."

Don't Stop Dreaming has now won five of his six starts.

Credit: HRNZ News 8 Nov 2022


YEAR: 2022

Addington racegoers cheered home a champion as Sundees Son produced one of the greatest trotting performances in harness racing history to win his third straight Renwick Farms Dominion Trot.

The Robert and Jenna Dunn trained superstar had to dig deep into his stamina reserves to win the Show Day feature, willing himself to an incredible victory after fighting out a home straight war with runner-up Muscle Mountain.
The roaring reception Sundees Son and driver John Dunn got when they returned to the birdcage demonstrated the enormity of the trotter’s victory.
Robert Dunn dared to compare the epic battle between Sundees Son and Muscle Mountain with New Zealand’s most recognised test of horse racing’s stamina – Bonecrusher and Our Waverly Star’s 1984 Cox Plate.
Nobody on track argued with the trainer given what they had just witnessed.
“It was like Bone Crusher and Our Waverly Star coming down the straight – our guy is just an out-and-out champion.”
Trained by Dunn and daughter-in-law Jenna, with son John driving and Jenna’s father Craig Edmonds at the horse’s side every day, Sundees Son preparation is a family affair.
John Dunn summed up exactly what the horse meant to the Dunn-Edmonds clan after Sundees Son’s epic win when returning to meet his hordes of adoring fans.”
“He means a lot to them, but he means even more to us.”
The enormity of Sundees Son’s victory was set up by the amount of work the horse was forced to do in the running.
Muscle Mountain and driver Ben Hope gained a key advantage over their main rivals when finding the lead and parking Sundees Son.
Dunn pressed forward to take to eventually find the front before immediately being attacked by Oscar Bonavena.
That early tempo meant the first half of the Dominion was run quicker than the closing half, setting up a battle of attrition over the final 400m.
Sundees Son was clearly headed by Muscle Mountain inside the final 200 metres, but the winner somehow lifted himself to a courageous victory.
“He must have a massive ticker there, he has got the personality to go with it but he has got the motor.”
“He was out on his feet on the furlong, Muscle Mountain ranged right up to me and looked like he was going to go straight past.”
“To dig deep like that, he is a true champion.”
Sundees Son is bred and raced by Colin and Nancy Hair, who now have three Dominion trophies to put on their mantlepiece.
Immediately after yesterday’s win Hair admitted he was still coming to terms with what he had witnessed.
Sundees Son stopped the clock in 3-58.4, slower that his 3-56.6 record breaking Dominion win last year.
A strong wind and much cooler conditions at Addington than in 2021 are likely to have had an effect on the race time, despite the hectic tempo of this year’s race.

Credit: Johnny Turner HRNZ News 11 Nov 2022


YEAR: 2022

Akuta treated harness racing fans to the ultimate display of power and brute strength when brilliantly winning the Group One New Zealand Derby on Grand Prix Day at Addington.

Settling many lengths off a hot tempo mattered little to the brilliant three-year-old who put away a brave Republican Party in an epic running of the three-year-old colts and geldings classic.

Akuta’s backers faced the sight of the New Zealand Cup fourth placegetter settling many lengths off a hot early pace set up by an early lead battle between Beach Ball and Republican Party.

While it might not have been what favourite punters were hoping to see, Mark Purdon wasn’t concerned that he had the entire field in front of him.

But there also wasn’t much he could do about it.
“The speed was on so we were flat keeping up, but once Blair found the front they came back to us,” Purdon said.
“Once Johnny Dunn came out and the three wide line got going we were able to get around them.”

After tracking the three-wide line, Akuta found the parked position and from there he delivered a crushing blow.

“It was a real staying event and he is just in super form.”

Akuta’s win was the middle leg of an incredible Group One treble for owner Ian Dobson who shares in the ownership of brilliant winners Muscle Mountain and Don’t Stop Dreaming.

Akuta will now head to the spelling paddock for a short break with North Island feature races like the Taylor Mile, the NZ Messenger Championship and The Race in mind.
And he will do so having already proven himself against New Zealand’s best open class pacers.

“I will give him a bit of a break now, he has had a big campaign and he deserves it,” Purdon said.

“He won’t be out for too long, we will want to have him ready for the feature races in Auckland coming up.”
Akuta went agonisingly close to clinching a national record on a record-smashing day, with his 3.05.6 time just 0.2sec outside the all-comers record for 2600m.

Republican Party was six and a half lengths behind Akuta after setting up much of that sizzling pace.

Sand Wave ran a very brave third behind the first two after he was posted three wide from the 800m after Akuta found the parked position.

Credit: By Jonny Turner


YEAR: 2022

By Michael Guerin

Driver Olivia Thornley spent much of Sunday’s $175,000 IRT New Zealand Oaks worrying that the tactic she thought up to win the race may actually end up costing her it.

But the yet-untapped ability of No Matter Wat was enough to overcome her fierce pulling and provide the popular Thornley with the first Group 1 victory of her driving career.

No Matter Wat went into the Oaks a big improver after a stunning third in the lead-up last Friday week but while Thornley hoped she could win she thought a top three finish would be a great result so set about putting No Matter Wat’s mind on the job.

“After she galloped away last week I gave her a real rouse up in the prelim to get her mind on the job,” says the 22-year-old.

“The problem was it worked too well and she thought she had to go like that the whole race.

“I was really happy to get her off the gate so well and get the front but when she kept going and wouldn’t really come back to me I started to worry.

“So I tried to control her and keep her from choking down but then later she started to get some of her Harry Houdini steps going and I thought she might break.

“After all of that to get her home was such a relief but also an amazing buzz.

“This is why we are in the industry to try and get wins at this level so to break through is a wonderful feeling.

“And I have had so many people contact me, my phone has been blowing up after so thats really great to have that support.”

No Matter Wat held out the passing lane surge of Obsession with favourite True Fantasy third after sitting parked in the 1:56.8 mile rate for the 2600m.

Thornley has been making a name for herself as a driver for the last two years but it is as one of the head staff at All Stars and a constant travelling companion for their elite horses that she is most recognized.

Go back through the footage or files of recent Group 1 winners in New Zealand and you will see plenty of Thornley’s trademark smile helping some of our best horses back to the stables.

“I have been there (All Stars) seven years at Christmas, I started when I was 15,” she says.

“They have been very good to me and I am learning so much and I realise the great opportunities I get. So to get that Group 1 for everybody else at the stables and the owners as well feels good.”

It isn’t just driving that interests Thornley heading forward though as she and her mother Jackie have a broodmare now and are on to their third co-bred foal so Olivia is already working her own youngster with more to come.

“I don’t actually work him at the All Stars cause we are full so I go work him afterwards.

“We have two now by Creatine (stallion) out of the mare from the family breed and I love the trotters.

“So that gives me another thing to work on and learn from.”

No Matter Wat’s emergence suggest she is going to be an even better four-year-old next season in a crop that feels like many of the participants have plateaued after the longest three-year-old season ever.

Judging by what she was able to do after over-racing Krug-style from the Northern Derby last year, No Matter Wat may have a bright future.
So too, does Thornley.

Credit: Michael Guerin


YEAR: 2022

Muscle Mountain capped a massive day for owner Ian Dobson at Addington Raceway’s Grand Prix Meeting on Sunday.

His victory in the Group 1 New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All (1980m) was Dobson’s third of the meeting, following Don’t Stop Dreaming’s win in the Group 1 Ace Of Spades (1980m) and Akuta’s win in the Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2600m).

With archrival Sundees Son withdrawal from the race earlier in the week and Bolt For Brilliance’s absence as a result of the Inter Dominions, Muscle Mountain was backed into a short-priced $1.30 favourite for the feature trot.

From his ace draw, Ben Hope drove Muscle Mountain positively off the mobile arm and took an early lead, seeing off an early challenge from Majestic Man.

Hope was able to dictate terms up front and Muscle Mountain looked in control throughout, running away to a 2-1/2 length victory for trainers Greg and Nina Hope, and posting a new New Zealand record of 2:22.9.

Muscle Mountain was brave when runner-up to Sundees Son in the Gr.1 Dominion Trot (3200m) last month and Hope was rapt to be able to go one better on Sunday.

“His work after the Dominion has been superb. He had a week off after it and he came back awesome,” he said.

“He looks phenomenal, and he has been training phenomenal.

“There are no certainties in racing, but I knew that if he was on his game it would take a special horse to beat him over the short distance.

“In my opinion, he is the best horse in the race and I think you have to drive him like it.”

Hope was pleased to get another Group One for Dobson, particularly having recorded his first elite-level victory in the bike behind Muscle Mountain in the NZ Trotting Championship (2600m) last year.

“Ian has shown a lot of faith in me, so it is great to reward him with another Group One win,” Hope said.

Victory in the Trotting Free-For-All is nothing new for the Hopes, with the Woodend Beach operation having tasted success in the race with their former top trotter Monbet.

“Monbet won it twice. He was a super horse and so is this guy,” Hope said.

Credit: By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk

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