Defending Golden Shears Open shearing champion Rowland Smith remains on target for a sixth win in the event by qualifying in first place for today's semi-finals.

The TAB's hot favourite to win, Smith was a comfortable leader in last night's top 30 quarterfinal shootout in a near-packed War Memorial Stadium in Masterton, almost 1.5pts clear of next-man-in, 2006 champion and fellow Hawke's Bay shearer Dion King.

The first five of the 12 qualifiers have horn the Golden Shears Open final in the past and will be among the favourites to make the last step-up to tonight's six-man final of 20 sheep.

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Only two have not, including sixth-man-in and double lower grades champion Ringakaha Paewai, from Dannevirke, living in Gore, and brother of Six60 drummer Eli Paewai.

Smith was also top qualifier in the heats of 71 shearers, his form carrying on from 11 consecutive wins in competitions around the country since January 19, in an almost uneaten run of just over 50 finals in the last two years.

Points in each stage revert to scratch, but the quip of the night went to spectator who reckoned that even if it's zero across the board as the first sheep is dragged on to the board Smith still has a head start.

The 12 semi-finalists in order of qualifying, are: 1 Rowland Smith (Maraekakaho), 2 Dion King (Flaxmere), 3 Nathan Stratford (Invercargill), 4 Gavin Mutch (Scotland/Whangamomona), 5 Aaron Haynes (Feilding), 6 Ringakaha Paewai (Gore), 7 Cam Ferguson (Waipawa), 8 John Kirkpatrick (Pakipaki), 9 Murray Henderson (Halcombe), 10 David Buick (Pongaroa), 11 Paerata Abraham (Masterton), 12 Mark Grainger (Te Kuiti).