The City Of Melton Plate may well be missing one of the rising stars of the four and five-year-old division, but it will be the path less-travelled that sees Hilltop Hustler develop into the horse he has promised to be.
Compared to the Group 2 $50,000 headline act on the card, the TAB.com.au pace final doesn’t have the same intangible excitement, however it could just have the horse that everyone is talking about in two months’ time.
Despite a small field lining up in the Melton Plate, trainer Mick Stanley hasn’t wavered on his opinion that the race has come too soon for his Kiwi native.
“I didn’t even consider the Melton Plate because I know Restrepo was going there and I’ve been trialling him so I know how well he is going,” Stanley said.
“I think if we want Hilltop Hustler to get to that level it’s about bringing him along slowly now and not gut him against the best early on.
“We’ve still got the same plan that we’ve had all the way through. If he keeps winning and pays his way then we will definitely still entertain the idea.”
The news that Breeders Crown champion Bit Of A Legend would be headed West for the four-year-old races might have worried a few out of going, but Stanley wasn’t perturbed.
In fact rather than definitively saying Hilltop Hustler was set for a Perth campaign, he has maintained that it’s something connections will consider providing the horse is in form at the time.
And Stanley also pointed out the age-old adage that you should never be scared to take on one horse.
“I mean around Gloucester Park if Bit Of A Legend happened to draw bad and no one else goes over then who knows what could happen,” he said.
“I’m not saying we could beat Bit Of A Legend but it hasn’t deterred us that much yet. The minor prizemoney is still good if you can run placings in a couple of those races too.”
Hilltop Hustler is likely to start one of the shortest priced favourites of the night and has been rated the $1.40 favourite with HRV form analyst Jason Bonnington.
The Ballarat all-rounder also has Goldstar Invasion in the following race and despite being beaten by Brylin Crescent last time, looks a chance of turning the tables.
David Aiken’s mare has drawn the second row after leading last time while Stanley’s gelding will start from four in the stand start affair.
“He has been working super and I think he’s been a bit unlucky not to win an M0,” he said.
“He’s been a frustrating horse since we had him over from New Zealand, he’s shown us a lot but as soon as he came over he had to have a wind operation and then we had him back and going and he won at Melton running good time but then he had another throat operation.”
by Blake Redden
Harness Racing Victoria