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Aussie young guns lurking

Majestic Cruiser
Majestic Cruiser

There is only one group that strikes more fear into New Zealand harness racing drivers than battle-hardened Australians intent on leading our major races.

That is young, fearless Australians who could do just about anything - a perfect recipe for the $900,000 The Race by Grins at Cambridge on Thursday night.

Four of the young stars of New South Wales descend on Cambridge for the inaugural running of New Zealand's first major slot race and they add a dimension to the race often lacking in domestic races in the last two years as border restrictions have kept the Aussies away.

Majestic Cruiser is trained by Jason Grimson, who won the Interdom Pacing Final in December, and will be driven by the new sensation of New South Wales harness racing, Cameron Hart.

Stylish Memphis is trained and driven by Jack Trainor, born in Dunedin but who has picked up the Sydney swagger with ease, while Jack Callaghan will partner Alta Orlando for Australia's biggest stable Team McCarthy.

All three drivers are young, talented, confident and unfailingly polite, but part of the new breed of drivers who like to let their horses run.

It is a philosophy which has become far more prevalent in Sydney since the development of Menangle and its American style of driving - getting the horses off the mobile start as hard as you can and playing 'catch me if you can'.

Callaghan, who has had a golden summer, says a smaller track like Cambridge is perfect for that style too and while Alta Orlando's biggest wins have come when driven with a sit, he won't be scared to light him up from barrier two.

"I am pretty confident I will cross Stylish Memphis, a horse I know well, and then hold the horses outside me and that gives me options," says Callaghan.

"If things get wild early I might hand up but I was at Cambridge for the Jewels last year as a spectator and it looks a track that suits leaders.

"So I will be happy to stay there and if a horse like Mach Dan [another Aussie] comes looking for the lead it will be to his detriment."

Trainer-driver Brent Mangos has already stated he will roll forward on South Coast Arden and in a normal New Zealand race that would usually be enough to see him bully his way to the front. While that may still happen, the Aussies, with their unfamiliar formlines and attitude, put an element of doubt into everybody's mind.

That creates a range of possibilities that could have any one of four or even five horses leading with a lap to go, and makes it hard to rule out any horse in the race.

Trainor is looking after both Stylish Memphis and Majestic Cruiser this week as Australian citizens Grimson, Hart and Callaghan can't get into the country until Wednesday, while Alta Orlando is in the temporary care of former trainer Robert Dunn.

"I am probably going to put hopple shorteners on her [Stylish Memphis] to get her off the gate as fast as I can and who knows, if Alta Orlando stays in front we might be in the trail," says Trainor.

Trainor also has the unexpected honour of leading the Australians on to the track as the four visiting pacers, Mach Dan being considered the other, will be afforded the courtesy of starting their prelims first as a team before the Kiwi pacers join in, the visitors escorted onto the track behind the boxing kangaroo flag.

That will leave no doubt that for the first time since Covid, real transtasman racing is back in New Zealand. - Michael Guerin, NZ Herald