Day At The Track

A tribute to Monkey King

10:46 PM 28 Mar 2012 NZDT
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Monkey King
Monkey King - the two-time New Zealand Cup champion.
Duane Ranger photo

Sometimes the timing just isn't fair. If it was, Monkey King would have been retired in a blaze of glory 17 months ago, the undisputed hero of New Zealand harness racing and his departure from the Australasian stage would have saddened racing fans.

Instead, New Zealand's richest ever standardbred eased into retirement last night. His connections finally conceding his battles with soreness that have lasted over a year.

It has been a long time since anybody considered Monkey King the star of the show because while his motor was still huge and his heart even bigger, his legs and body have been passed their use-by date almost since he won his second New Zealand in November 2010.

A string of failures since against horses who were often not worthy of even breathing the same air may have dulled Monkey King's lustre but you don't have to dig far to realise he deserves his place among our greats.

Never the biggest or the prettiest, the horse nicknamed Sam was often the fastest and the bravest.

A Derby winner at three, he won the Messenger and Harness Jewels at four.

These days such age group stars rarely go on to reproduce heroics deep into their careers but the care of trainers Steven Reid and then Brendon Hill meant Monkey King got an extended shot at greatness.

He took it.

Placings in the Auckland and New Zealand Cups at five and six later became wins in both races, with both his New Zealand Cup victories coming over Aussie legend Smoken Up.

His first NZ Cup success started a season of nearly unmatched superiority.

After the Cup he won the New Zealand Free-For-All and then paced 1:50.8 winning the Miracle Mile before all but clean-sweeping the Sydney Interdominions, taking the greatest Interdom hero of them all in Blacks A Fake to beat him in the final.

He returned to Auckland just five days later to win the Auckland Cup.

They were just some of 39 wins from 95 starts worth $3,487,401 in stakes, the richest amount ever won by a New Zealand-bred harness horse.

He developed from a one-sprint sensation as a young horse to a world class stayer and fans loved him because he was a physical underdog, small but tenacious.

Of course, those fans didn't know what trainer Hill did. "He is actually a bit of a prick," laughs Hill.

"He is a grumpy old bugger and would have a bite or a kick at you if you give him the chance.

"But that is just him. His attitude. He knows how good he is." Which was very, very good.

Monkey King

Breeding: Sands A Flyin-Tuapeka Vale. Trainers: Steven Reid (Oct 2005-Feb 2009), then Brendon Hill.

Drivers: Ricky May, Steven Reid, and Todd Mitchell; Peter Ferguson and Tom Cowan (one drive each).

Owner: Cavalla Bloodstock.

Record: 95 starts, 39 wins, 23 placings, $3,487,401 in stakes.

Career highlights: NZ Cup (twice); Auckland Cup; Miracle Mile; NZ Free-For-All (twice); Easter Cup; NZ Messenger, Harness Jewels (4yo); Woodlands Northern Derby; Nobilo Flying Stakes; Pelorus Classic; Hannon Memorial.

Michael GUERIN

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