Team Telfer's premiership lead cut to two

By Michael Guerin

New Zealand’s newest Group 1 race meeting this Sunday could end up playing a deciding role in who wins the harness racing trainer’s premiership.

If that is to be the case then it may be advantage the All Stars barn of Mark Purdon and Hayden Cullen, even though they go into the weekend in second place.

While the partnership would be the automatic first choice if most punters were asked who was New Zealand’s leading harness stable, the All Stars last won the premiership in 2019 with Dunn racing making it back to back premierships since.

If it seems strange to be talking premierships in December that comes about after HRNZ changed their racing season to a calendar year, meaning this season ends on December 31.

For much of 2022 the premiership has been, and still is, led by the emerging powerhouse of Stonewall Stud with trainers Steve and Amanda Telfer (brother and sister) running a two-stable operation in Auckland and Canterbury.

Not only has Stonewall boss Steve Stockman become a huge yearling sales player but they are now regulars in our Group 1 races and lead the premiership by two, 87-85 over the All Stars.

The gap between the two top stables has closed after Team Telfer had two wins last week while the All Stars had six.

Senior training partner Steve Telfer believes he has the firepower to get to 100 wins for the year and says if the All Stars can beat that, so be it.

“At the start of the season I had two number goals, one was to get to 84 wins to make it 500 career training wins and the other, if we were going well, was to get to 100 for the season,” says Telfer.

“I reckon we can do that and while we would love to win the premiership now we are this close, if 100 isn’t enough there isn’t much we can do about that.”

The stable will have small numbers racing at Cambridge and Alexandra Park this Friday along with the odd few in the south but will be hoping for at least a few wins when they send a team of six to the second day of the Manawatu meeting next week.

They will also boast the famous West Coast circuit by sending a team to Westport and Reefton in the last week of the year but Telfer says they will stop short of changing good horses programmes just to win the premiership.

“Horses like Kahlua Flybye that race at the Grand Prix meeting at Addington this Sunday will come home after that and have a spell, we are not going to race them in races they shouldn’t be in just to try to win the premiership.”

The stable will have a new North Island driver soon too with Benjamin Butcher leaving their employment on good terms this week as he and his partner move back to his home town of Cambridge.

“Tim Williams has committed to flying up over the next few months to do a lot of that driving while we have a lot of faith in our junior driver Alicia Harrison in time,” says Telfer.

But the All Stars have far more serious numbers at the Grand Prix meeting at Addington this Sunday, the new harness marquee day that at least in part replaces the disbanded Jewels day.

Purdon and Cullen could have as many as six favourites at the meeting with horses like Self Assured, Don’t Stop Dreaming, Millwood Nike, the unbeaten High Energy and Akuta in the New Zealand Derby and True Fantasy in the New Zealand Oaks.

If even four of them can win then the All Stars could start next week as the premiership leaders and are expected to take a team to the Invercargill meeting mid-December where almost anything they line up will be favourite.

Just a few days ago Team Telfer was $1.40 to win the premiership and the All Stars $3.30. By last night that was $2 for the Telfers and $2.10 the All Stars with the likelihood the title will be decided by a few wins at most.

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