Day At The Track

Huge program in front of Christen Me

11:52 AM 09 Aug 2015 NZST
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Christen Me - Has a big season in front of him
Christen Me - Has a big season in front of him

It was almost fitting that trainer Cran Dalgety and driver Dexter Dunn were 19,000km away when Christen Me was honoured as the Harness Horse of the Year at the annual harness racing awards ceremony in Christchurch on Saturday night.

Because for the last few weeks the stresses of long-distance travel have been challenging Dalgety as he's mapped out an ambitious early-season plan for the champion pacer.

Dalgety joined pin-up driver Dunn in Ireland on Thursday where they are taking part in the Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend celebrations at Portmarnock Raceway in Dublin.

It will be a welcome sojourn for Dalgety before the pending storm of racing which he admits will test even the country's most travelled campaigner in his seven-year-old season.

Monday's trials at Addington will mark the beginning of the road for Christen Me which, if all goes to plan, will see the horse tilt at the New Zealand Cup on November 10 before flying 5000km to Perth for the gruelling  Interdominion series which starts just 17 days later.

It's a challenging double but one which bookmakers have already signalled they believe he can achieve by posting him $3 favourite for the $750,000 Cup and $5.50 co-favourite for the $1.3 million Interdom Final on December 13.

"I feel it's doable and I'm up for the challenge," said Dalgety who admitted it wasn't until he investigated all the travel options that the bold double was elevated from pipe-dream to reality.

With West Australian officials keen to promote a tri-code carnival, flights from Melbourne had been laid on to transport horses inter-state, he said.

"The only scary thing is they can't give us a 100 per cent guarantee on the exact dates but we still think we can do it. Getting a horse from the South Island to Perth is a big mission but he's had quite a bit of experience travelling now and I feel he has improved a little bit."

Dalgety admitted it was a bit like "going into the unknown" tackling two feature carnivals so close together and so far apart but he is a dab hand at campaigning horses at a true Interdominion, and says he is excited by the return to the traditional format of three heats in a week and the final a week later.

He last did it with top pacer Desperate Comment, who went into the 1996 Perth final as top points-scorer before running sixth to Young Mister Charles.

And he repeated the dose the following year in Adelaide when Desperate Comment won two heats before running fifth to Our Sir Vancelot in the final.

Everything Dalgety does in the next three months will be designed to have Christen Me primed for the dual assault – he's even planning on restricting him to only three lead-up races before the cup, compared with last year's four runs. 

The first will be at Addington on September 5, when he will run in the $25,000 Holmes Vase (2600m), a race Christen Me could easily win given how pleased Dalgety is with how the horse looks.

"I'm really excited and bushy-tailed where I am with him at the moment. He's been in work for more than three months and had seven weeks of fast work.

"In his general  well-being, he's a touch ahead of last year and, physically, he's the bulkiest he's been. He's a touch overweight but that's what I've planned, I want 10 per cent extra to play with."

Dalgety said sometimes people were brainwashed by the idea that once pacers reached the age of seven they were on the way down.

"But he didn't have a hard time as a two and three-year-old and I think that's standing by him now.

"And, while he's just had a great season, he had only 14 starts. If he'd been trained in Australia he would have had double that."

Christen Me, raced by veteran Charlie Roberts and Vicky Purdon, won six of his nine starts in New Zealand, including the Group I NZ Free-for-all, Auckland Cup and Easter Cup. And he won three of his five starts in Australia, simply sublime in taking the Group I Miracle Mile and Victoria Cup. 

His earnings of $1,187,443 clearly topped those of his close relation Adore Me ($796,563), who captured six votes in the Horse of the Year race. But the now retired Adore Me won the race Dalgety really wants, the NZ Cup.

"Charlie was lucky enough to win the Cup with Adore Me last year and, if  I can win it for him this year with Christen Me, I'd feel like I'd really kicked a goal in my career. And my enthusiasm about him is as high as ever."

It came as no surprise that Adore Me's sire Bettor's Delight won the stallion of the year award for the fifth time in a row, and her dam Scuse Me was named the broodmare of the year, also having produced the champion three-year-old Have Faith In Me.

Roberts, naturally, got the gong for breeder of the year.

Barry Lichter

Reproduced with permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here

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