Top harness racing horseman Mark Jones was confident Master Lavros would be declared Rowe Cup champion before entering the inquiry room at Alexandra Park, Auckland, on Friday, May 10.
Dexter Dunn, driving runnerup Sheemon, put in a protest after Master Lavros drifted outwards under pressure in the run home, but there wasn’t enough in it to change the result.
Mark says the professionalism of all participants in the inquiry was pleasing.
“Not just because I won, but it was probably one of the best inquiries I’ve been involved with,” he said.
“Everyone stuck to that facts. Dexter was very good. He never went out of his way to overturn it and Kevin Townley (Sheemon’s trainer) was extremely good.”
Mark said John Muirhead (Stipendiary steward) was very good and fair with his interpretation of events.
“He said Mr Jones had run out but has not made any contact and I cannot say that Mr Dunn would have beaten Mr Jones.”
“I would have hated the backlash if we’d been put out,” Mark said after delivering with the $3 favourite.
“I think Kevin Townley felt a bit bad about it, but you have to look at it from their situation. They’re doing their best to win the race too.”
“Even before we went in there Kevin said I don’t want to protest and I don’t want to win a race like that.”
Kypros Kotzikas, the owner of Master Lavros, was asked for his interpretation of events and according to Mark quite simply told the inquiry: “I don’t know why we are here. We did nothing wrong and did not interfere with that horse.”
The Judicial Control Authority agreed the home straight movement wasn’t enough to change the placings, although they took $450 from Mark for allowing Master Lavros to shift outwards.
Mark says there are adjustments to turn a trotter like Master Lavros around from racing left-handed at Addington, which he prefers, then rig him differently to race right-handed.
Mark says Master Lavros was running on empty the final 100m in the Rowe, but when Sheemon challenged, he put his head down and toughed it out.
“Probably six months ago he wouldn’t have done that,” he said.
“All it boils down to is that good horses just want to do it.”
Master Lavros, three back on the outer, zipped up a lap out and strode to the front at the 700m. He held the booming finish wide of Sheemon by a neck, trotting the 3200m in 4:06.4 (2:03.4 mile rate), the last 800m in 60.1s
During the race, Mark says it was as good as Master Lavros had trotted.
“During the running he felt a million dollars,” he said.
Master Lavros had mixed his gait in the Greenlane Cup, and has also broken at other times during the season, but Mark says he can’t find anything wrong with him.
“He has a few niggles but nothing that you could say is a problem. What probably makes things a lot worse is that mentally when he does make one mistake and gallops, he loses the plot.”
He expects him to come back better at six and is looking forward to the horse proving himself in Australia.
The Rowe win was very satisfying for Mark as a horseman, emulating father Peter, who drove Tussle to win the 1985 Rowe and 1986 Dominion, and also won the 1990 Dominion with Sundon.
It also came as a bonus as it was a late decision to keep him going another month for the Rowe.
He now heads to the spelling paddock the winner of 15 races from 31 starts for $351,468 in stakes.
Mark, who was recording his 61st training win of the term in the Rowe, with the team earning over $680,000 in stakes, says the season had exceeded expectations.
“We’ve probably won the right races with the right horses,” he said.
“But it will probably be my best for a few years. Numbers-wise we’re way down,” he said.
However, having a “flagship” horse and the raging favourite to be crowned NZ Trotter Of The Year, is the icing on the cake.
“Cran (Dalgety, former boss) always said that. You can win 100 races in a season but no-one really remembers it unless you have a flagship horse that wins some big races.”
Maximising their potential takes skill and management. Mark continues to make most of the right calls with Master Lavros and providing he stays sound, the huge Sundon gelding will cement his claim as NZ’s leading squaregaiter.