Day At The Track

Monte will be a star-studded affair

04:00 PM 25 May 2017 NZST
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K D Muscles
K D Muscles will debut under saddle at Melton on Saturday.

Saturday night’s monte at Tabcorp Park Melton will be a star-studded affair after harness racing trainers Andy Gath and Ross Sugars elected to stick saddles on two of their leading trotters.

Gath will run Group 1 placegetter K D Muscles in the $14,000 Aldebaran Park Monte Championship, the first time the trainer of almost 9600 starters has entered the saddled racing.

The 87th monte run in Victoria will also mark Sugars’ first participation in the class since Illawong Magic contested four montes between May and July in 2014.

“There is always a bit of apprehension, but I expect both to benefit from their first go in the monte,” Sugars said.

“It’s something completely different in their training. It’s like taking a horse who has always been training on the track and you take it swimming and it gets a different outlet and some new lease on life. It doesn’t work for all, but for most it will.”

The trainers arrive at the monte from different perspectives.

For Sugars it’s a chance to freshen Illawong Helios and possibly extend his season, having had 12 starts since January 23.

For Gath it’s a chance to give K D Muscles, owned by Norm Jenkin, a hit-out in a race that doesn’t also feature another Jenkin’s runner.

“She has the same owner as Clover Mac who is in for Ballarat's (John Slack Memorial Trotters Cup) on Friday night and instead of doubling up we will take advantage of the $14,000 race on Saturday to avoid the clash,” Gath said.

“(K D Muscles) hadn’t run under a saddle before Monday morning. Michelle (Phillips) did half-a-dozen laps on her and then she trialled on Monday night and handled it well. She ran good time.”

Beyond that the jury is out. It’s expected the talented trotter will be competitive with the likes of Conon Bridge, Brent Lilley’s Breeders Crown winner who’s a veteran of four montes, and Vics Cheval, David Aiken’s trotter who returns to the montes for the first time since 2016 when she won three races under saddle.

“It’s a little hard to know what affect it will have,” Gath said. “We will see how she recovers from having carried weight on her back instead of a sulky.

“I thought she trialled good under saddle and she will have Ben Aubron riding her and he is quite experienced. I think she will acquit herself well.”

Sugars has little apprehension about throwing Illawong Helios into the championship, the calendar’s richest mobile start monte.

“Both her and K D Muscles I think will perform really well,” Sugars said. “The short-course will suit them and I think it will be a very good race between Conon Bridge, K D Muscles and Illawong Helios.

“This has come at the right time (for Illawong Helios). She had progressed well this campaign and then levelled out.”

Sugars said putting Illawong Helios into a monte had “always been in the back of the mind”, having trained her under saddle “three or four times” last October before she was put out for a spell.

“It might keep her in work longer and if she benefits I won’t just race her in montes but put her back in normal racing,” Sugars said. “It might get a few others thinking about it and having a go, because the monte racing has definitely improved as better horses have taken to it.”

Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator)

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