Day At The Track

Peaking Perfectly

04:00 PM 27 Jun 2016 NZST
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Sunset Peak.jpg

One of the greats of New Zealand harness racing doesn’t get to see his newest Alexandra Park winner very often.

But you can rest assured, John Butcher is watching when Sunset Peak is winning.

The former Canterbury trotting mare made it two wins from four starts in the north at Alexandra Park on Friday night, leading throughout as she did two starts ago.

She is trained by John and his son David, although truth be known John doesn’t get down to the stables much anymore.

The 80-year-old patriarch of one of New Zealand’s great racing families is suffering from lung problems which restrict how much physical activity he can undertake.

But it doesn’t stop him watching races on television or keeping up with the industry going-ons via the computer.

“He knows everything that goes on in the game, he is the one who tells me,” says David.

“But with the lung problem he has got he doesn’t leave the house much. He is a lot better if he doesn’t over exert himself.”
 The father and son have been training in partnership for years but rarely have they had a trotter able to win twice so quickly at Alexandra Park.

It helped that Sunset Peak came north well educated by owner Paul McDonald, a Canterbury builder who was training her himself.

“I think Paul thought with winter coming and all the work he had on she was better off up here,” explains David.

“So Craig Thornley, who had been driving her, put him on to us and she is a lovely horse to get hold of.

“To win two so quickly at The Park doesn’t happen very often and you would think she will get down to being a 3:30 trotter (for 2700m stand).

“And that is probably good enough to get her at least five wins because when they trot 3:30 off the front they are hard to catch.

“The other night she trotted her last three quarters (1200ms) in about even time so the ability is there.”
 The Butchers have never been huge trainers of trotters but have two recent winners in that gait, the other being Larch, among the 9-10 horses they are training.

“Soon half the horses at Alexandra Park will be trotters,” jokes Butcher about the new-found depth of the gait in the north.

“And they are ideal for up here, races every week and for good money.

“So to have a nice one right now is a real bonus.”
 Sunset Peak’s win capped a good night for the family as earlier David’s son Zac drove Atomic Betty to break her maiden and he can probably claim an unofficial training success with Hug The Wind in the $20,000 Smith And Partners Winter Cup.

Zac has been in charge of the Barry Purdon stable while the boss has taken a small holiday and had Hug The Wind well enough for driver Brent Mangos to launch him as only Mangos does in the main pace.

Aided by a brilliant beginning which gave him field position, Hug The Wind worked forward to get the lead and was way too good in a race where new stablemate New Years Jay also caught the eye when third, promoted from fourth.

The favourite Shandale was given a good trip by trainer-driver Maurice McKendry but disappointed, suggesting his season may soon be over.

Earlier in the night McKendry partnered the McCaffrey-Paynter trained Ideal Flipflop to a good win in a tough c1 race, the three-year-old pacing 2:40.3 for the 2200m on a chilly night, indicating there is plenty more in store for him.

Michael Guerin

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