By Michael Guerin
Trainer Adrienne Matthews is in for a record night at Alexandra Park this evening.
And why that doesn’t mean she will train a winner the fact she has seven starters at the second Auckland meeting of harness racing’s comeback is a huge feat in its self.
“I have had seven starters at a Manawatu meeting once but never at Alexandra Park,” says the Glenbrook horsewoman.
“That is a lot of starters at a meeting up here for us so I am looking forward to it. But to be honest I am just enjoying being back at the races after the lockdown.”
It is still some effort from a smaller stable to have seven starters at an Alexandra Park meeting, including winning chances like The Blue Beat (race eight).
“We were kind of lucky that we have our own track at home so could be up and running quickly after lockdown and some of them are racing really well.”
Matthews is a popular member of the northern harness racing community, having cut her teeth in harness racing with the likes of Ray Norton and Geoff Small.
“I actually got into racing a bit later than a lot of people do because I played rep netball and that was my main focus out of school.
“I played for the North Shore and West Auckland at the level just below what was then the Coca Cola Cup but started to get more involved with the horses around 21,” said the now 38-year-old.
She starts tonight with two chances in race two, the in-form Letherhairdown and Fortune Smile, who is fresh up.
“Letherhairdown is racing well but this is a nice enough field so she might be a better place chance while Fortune Smile was all but retired.
“She had soreness issues in her hind legs and we were going to break her in for a saddle horse but then an abscess burst out and she was sound enough to put back into work.
“She lacks a bit of speed but tries hard.”
Maiden trotter Cepheus (race three) has the ability to win races but Matthews says a second-start scare has dented his confidence.
“He ran fourth on debut but in his second start the horse next to him came across at the start and pushed him into another horse and and since then he has been worried every start that the other horses are coming to get him at the start.
“He is getting slowly better but it might take a few more starts yet to get his confidence back.”
Johnson Step (race four) was attacked in front at Cambridge last week but still faded more than he should have late and steps into a stronger maiden field tonight.
“I think he might be back on the inside and this looks like a tough race for him to win.”
Matthews is hoping the stable’s trotting star The Hulk can make a better beginning in race seven tonight to help him navigate the final bend smoothly.
“Getting in and trotting roughly on that last bend has been his weakness and to overcome that it is better if he is on the markers near the lead so hopefully he can be there.
“But he is still better left-handed.”
The other problem for The Hulk is the depth of the field, with plenty of potential future open class trotters in what will be the highlight of the night, headlined by brilliant last start winner Kay Cee.
The Blue Beat meets some handy opposition in race eight but Matthews says the lockdown was a blessing for the four-year-old mare.
“She is a very big mare and has been a bit awkward growing into herself but that break during lockdown really aided her and she paces a lot smoother now she has strengthened up,” says Matthews.
“So I think she will be a better mare this campaign but she isn’t a sit sprint horse so I am hoping Jay (Abernethy, driver) can get her off the inside and sit in the running line this week.”
The last on the card tonight for the amateur drivers gives Matthews the chance to repay loyal stable supporter Bruce Hadley with another drive on Edamfast.
“Bruce has been great to us, always willing to help out when we short staffed on the weekends,” she explains.
“I think he can win a race on this horse but he is a funny horse to drive in that you have to make him do it and last week he got a bit lazy.
“Because of that I don’t think one on the second line suits him on Thursday, especially following out a horse who might not have enough gate speed to lead.”