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The Rowe Cup dreams of one of trotting's Big Three lives on as another's start to fade during a tumultuous week for the open class crop. The comeback of undoubtedly New Zealand's best trotter Monbet appears to have stalled yet again as he is missing from the fields for Rangiora on Sunday, which was to have been his next assignment. And that must bring into doubt his chances of making it to Auckland for the Anzac Cup on April 26 and more importantly the Rowe Cup a week later. Monbet has had just one start in 28 months after a series of leg issues but trainer Greg Hope was, excuse the pun, hoping he had the seven-year-old sound enough for a group one campaign after a recent trials win. But after developing a splint last week that kept him out of last Friday's Trotting Championships and now missing Rangiora on Sunday, it is hard to see how he could be fit enough to race, let alone win in Auckland. While Monbet's northern assault is in doubt Marcoola will be on trial for a trip north when he contests Sunday's race, for which he will now be a hot favourite. He was a huge flop behind Speeding Spur last Friday with driver Clint Ford suggesting the very wet Addington track may have been one reason. "He has handled a wet track before but he didn't seem to enjoy it last week," said Ford. "Maybe it was that and maybe it was the fact he has missed a lead-up race. "But he has worked well since and if he bounces back on Sunday then the trip to Auckland will still be on. "We are still intending to go but obviously we would have to reassess if he fails again on Sunday." Marcoola will be up against last season's Jewels winner Habibi Inta while the feature of the Rangiora card will be the Classic for the pacers where New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer clashes with Chase Auckland, A G's White Socks and Ashley Locaz. It will be Chase Auckland's first start in New Zealand for the season so he has no stake money so far with which to qualify for the Jewels at Addington on June 1. He has this Sunday and the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Auckland as well as possibly some smaller mid-May races to try to win at least $40,000 to get into the Jewels. But because he hasn't earned any money domestically this season he hasn't been listed in the market for the four-year-old Emerald. The TAB released those markets yesterday and there are some real cases of punter beware. Turn It Up and Spankem are the two favourites for the four-year-old male pace but it wouldn't surprise to see either or both bypass the race to spell and prepare for the rich treble of the New Zealand Cup-Inter Dominion-Auckland Cup which are all in New Zealand in the last seven weeks of this year. And the participation of champion three-year-old Ultimate Sniper in the Jewels would seem anything but certain as he has been sent for scintigraphy after being slightly uneasy in his gait when winning the New Zealand Derby last Friday. Michael Guerin

Monbet’s road back to the top of New Zealand trotting just took another detour.  But driver Ricky May is hoping his latest setback doesn’t cost the former Horse of the Year a shot at the Rowe Cup in a few weeks.  The great trotter has only had one start back after a nearly two and a half year layoff during which he has battled a range of leg problems and general unsoundness.  With a race under his belt last month he won at the trials on March 13 and was all set for his return to group one action in the $100,000 NZ Trot Championships at Addington on Friday.  Except Monbet won’t be there after developing a splint in one of his hind legs.  “It shouldn’t be that big a deal and Greg (Hope, trainer) wasn’t that worried about it when I spoke to him yesterday,” said regular driver Ricky May.  “He was about 70 per cent on starting him this week so it wasn’t that bad but he has obviously decided against it.  “It is a real shame because he trialed so well and Greg thought he was ready to go after giving him a proper workout the other day. “But obviously it is still annoying him so it looks like he will miss this Friday.”  Hope could not be contacted last night.  Friday’s 2600m mobile was to be the first clash of trotting’s big three in Monbet, Speeding Spur and Marcoola.  The latter two are in the nominations for Friday’s group one and Monbet could theoretically join them still has nominations have been extended until this morning.  But if he doesn’t then May hopes Monbet can be back on track for the Anzac Cup (April 26) and Rowe Cup (May 3) both at Alexandra Park. The Trotting Champs won’t be without real depth though as rising stars Winterfell, King’s Landing and Sundees Son step up to the open class group one level for the first time. Friday night’s meeting is one of the strongest of the year with the $200,000 New Zealand Derby for the pacer and the $100,000 equivalent for the trotters as well as the Easter Cup.  Ultimate Sniper retains favouritism for the pacing Derby even after an expensive last-start gallop, rated a $1.70 by the TAB ahead of stablemate Jesse Duke at $4. Letterkenny Boy, who is third favourite in the futures market for the Derby has not been nominated and is instead entered for a lower grade race on Friday night so is very much a case of punter’s beware.  Enhance Your Calm will be unbackable in the Trotting Derby while the Easter Cup is likely to bring together New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer, Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up and Miracle Mile hero Spankem. But the shock of that race is the entry of superstar three-year-old filly Princess Tiffany, because her high rating means there are no other races on Friday, outside the Derby, she is eligible for. But she won’t be starting it was just trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen making a point about how poorly off the best three-year-olds, especially fillies, can be treated by the rating and programming systems when the country’s best filly can’t find a suitable race. Michael Guerin

The lift in demand for the straight-out trotter has been reflected in the results achieved on Day 1 of selling at NZB’s National Yearling Sale in Christchurch, with the aggregate, average and median figures exceeding that of last year’s result. “There has been a tremendous development of the stand-alone trotter and for the turnover to break the million-dollar mark is a great achievement,” commented NZB Standardbred Manager Peter Lagan. “It’s been great to experience another lift with the average reaching over $30,000, reinforcing that the trotter has really become quite a commercial product.” With 40 lots sold this afternoon, the aggregate surpassed the seven-figure mark to close at $1,203,500 (up 26% on 2018). The average rose to $30,088 (up 16% on 2018), the median settled at $21,500, while the clearance rate was a strong 83%. Seven lots sold for $50,000 or more with the highest-priced yearling fetching $105,000. The Love You colt, King of Love, was offered by Mansfield Farm as Lot 192 with local trainer Greg Hope the winning bidder. “We’ve got a Love You filly at home that we are in raptures about and we couldn’t resist having a full blood brother to that,” commented leading buyer Hope who spent an aggregate of $140,000 for two lots. Champion European sire Love You topped both the leading sire table by aggregate and average (three or more sold) having sold 10 lots for $403,500 in receipts, and a healthy average of $40,350. Jim Connelly was active at the Christchurch Sale after making his presence felt in Auckland. Purchasing under his KPC Racing banner, Connelly secured two trotting yearlings today for a total spend of $130,000. Selling six lots for a total trade of $163,000, Ripple Creek were the leading vendors by aggregate with their results bolstered by a Father Patrick colt (Lot 156) who sold for $50,000. Studholme Bloodstock were the leading sire by average (three or more sold) having sold three lots at an average of $42,333, including a Muscle Hill filly (Lot 158) who made $65,000. “It was a wonderful result for the farm,” commented Studholme Bloodstock’s Brian West. “I’ve been in and out of the trotters for nearly three decades, and once I had spent some time in Europe, I came home convinced that we should start investing in good trotting blood – simply because we can access the best trotting sires in the world.” The Christchurch Sale continues tomorrow with Lot 196 to Lot 401 going under the hammer from 11.00am. All horses purchased at the National Yearling Sale are eligible for the NZB Standardbred Harness Million Series with approximately $1 million in prizemoney for graduates. To make enquiries about any Passed Lots, contact Cam Bray on +64 21 737 199. Read more....   Reprinted with permission of NZB Standardbred

Not many owners can claim to have won a New Zealand Derby, a New Zealand Messenger, and a Four Year Old Emerald. And to have had two consecutive sales toppers at the yearling sales, but that’s what Stu and Pauline Gillan of Lochiel have achieved. The Derby, the Messenger and the Emerald were all achieved this season with two horses - Eamon Maguire and Sheriff. It’s been an outstanding racing season for the couple who not only have shares in Sheriff and Eamon Maguire, but also in Thefixer, English Rose and Motu Top Mach. And between them all this season they’ve won thirteen races and stakes of $418,548. The Gillan’s sales toppers as yearlings were Titanium in 2013 and Bollinger in 2015. Stu doesn’t come from a racing background, but he says his interest was developed at an early age. “My father enjoyed his five bob doubles. He’d put the doubles on and listen to the first leg and normally miss out. Then he’d go to the pub and talk about what happened. He didn’t go to the races a lot. He went to Wingatui and Waikouaiti on News Years Day. I used to have bets (pretend) with my father and pick horses I could pronounce,” he said. Listening to the wireless in those early years also heightened his passion for the industry. “I remember as a nine year old running home from school to hear the 1954 New Zealand Trotting Cup which Johnny Globe won. We were all fans of Johnny Globe. He was a lovely black horse.” Stu was educated at Kings High School in Dunedin and loved sport. That’s where he met Phil Creighton. As teenagers they played cricket together for Albion and rugby for Pirates. “I loved rugby and cricket but I was bloody hopeless at playing them. I also played squash for years.” In later years he also refereed rugby in Southland.                                                                                           “I really enjoyed that because all you do is look after yourself while if you’re coaching you’ve got twenty guys you’ve got to try and get on the field. I got to know the Browns (Southland trainer Murray Brown and his brother Bevan). They didn’t mind helping me referee games.” Stu met Pauline in 1970 after he was transferred to Invercargill to work for New Zealand Insurance.   He subsequently worked for a number of different companies before setting up his own accounting business. “I worked for the Permanent Building Society, then got offered a job with John Harrington of Harrington and Partners. After five years the company merged with Forrest, Burns and Ashby. I was made redundant and Pauline talked me into having a go on my own. It’s good to be able to work on your own and be independent.” As an accountant he doesn’t have big flashy companies on his books, preferring to deal with the southern farming type. “I’ve got good smaller sheep farmers. I don’t have any dairy farmers because they owe too much money,” he chuckled. Pauline has been the receptionist at the Southland Hospital Children’s Ward for the past twenty six years and is also an ardent netball fan, having followed the Southern Steel and Sting since the franchise started in the old Invercargill Centennial Hall. She and her good friend Bronwyn Queale, also from Lochiel, were often first in line when it came to getting their seasons tickets. Stu’s first yearling purchase was in 1975 when he bought Scottish Hanover colt Pierre Scott for $3,000. It was out of the Thurber Frost mare Heather Frost. Pierre Scott started eighteen times for three different trainers; Hamish Hunter, Stu Campbell and Noel Creighton, without banking a cheque. “He was hopeless. Anyway the guy that bred him Roy Adam who was a Life Member of the West Australia Trotting Association, was so disappointed with the price he got (for Pierre Scott) that he took the mare home in foal (to Lumber Dream). That foal was Preux Chevalier.” Preux Chevalier went on to win forty one races in just fifty six starts and $791,331. His wins include an Interdominion Final in Melbourne, a West Australian Cup, NSW Miracle Mile and New Zealand Free For All. The one that got away!! Stu’s first winner was in 1995 when Mocca Magic, which he raced with Phil Creighton, won. She was by Vance Hanover out of the Local Light mare Mia Mocca. Trained by Greg Hope, she won another race before becoming a broodmare. Creighton and Gillian bred from her for a number of years and her best foal proved to be Angela Gold (In The Pocket) which won two races here before heading state side. She won a further twenty two races there, recording a best mile time of 1-53.0. “Phil gave me a share in her (Mocca Magic). She won at Forbury Park driven by Ricky May. Phil gave him fifty bucks unbeknown to me and I gave him fifty as well. Ricky didn’t say no to either.” (Laughter). So the breeding bug had begun. “Over a few years Phil bought three broodmares that I had shares in. 1981 was our first sale and we took a filly up to Christchurch. He’s had two or three in the sales each year ever since and I’ve had an average of one. We never made any money for many years but by selling them it kept the pot boiling.” Gillan also bought at the sales, purchasing a Bettor’s Delight colt Match Point at the 2011 Yearling Sales in Christchurch. He was out of the lightly raced Badlands Hanover mare Clijsters. Her second dam Vicario was a half-sister by Soky’s Atom to New Zealand Cup winner Il Vicolo. Vicario was a very good broodmare leaving Stunin Cullen the winner of the Hunter Cup, Great Northern Derby, Ashburton Flying Stakes, Sires Stakes Final, as well as twelve other races with total stakes of $1,493,716. Vicario also left Coburg (10 wins). “Dean Taylor trained him (Match Point) for three or four starts and said he was going to take time. Eventually we brought him down to Graeme Anderson to train on the beach. I think the beach work and more aggressive driving by Dexter Dunn helped him. I owned him with John Blakeley who passed away about a year ago. Unfortunately in New Zealand you soon get out of your class and he wasn’t good from a stand so we sold him to Australia.” Match Point won his first start at Forbury for Taylor and two other races from that stable before he was transferred to Anderson’s stable. He won first up for Anderson at Winton in March 2015. He won three other races before he was exported to Aussie later that year. In Australia he’s won another seven races and paced a mile in 1-51.6. “That was my introduction to Graeme Anderson. I’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to buy shares in three horses with him since.” Typical of his accounting background, Gillan has been calculating with these investments. From capital gained from the sale of his high end yearlings he’s reinvested in racing stock that have been up and running and with potential. That investment money has primarily come from broodmare gem Asabella. She was bought as a yearling at the 2002 yearling sales by Creighton for about $48,000 and Gillan bought into the ownership. She was by In The Pocket out of the Smooth Fella mare Bellisimo. It’s the family that has produced Jovial Jennie the winner of nine races and the dam of Happy Hazel which won twelve races including the 1989 Great Northern Oaks. Asabella was initially trained by Mark Purdon and won just two races. “She had a bit of speed but lacked toughness. She raced a bit in Auckland over the short distances and didn’t have much luck.” After her racing days were over the partnership set about breeding from her. In 2008 they sold Red River Hanover gelding Black Denim to Rob Storer for $27,500. He was renamed Code Red and won six in New Zealand and another six in Australia. The following year Dave Carville bought the mares next foal Bet On Black for $45,000 and he was renamed as well – Ohoka’s Bondy looked smart at two but was exported to Australia winless. However he ultimately won twenty two races in Australia including the $125,000 Group One Golden Slipper at Gloucester Park. Asabella’s next foal and first filly Dancing Diamonds was also sold at the yearling sales in 2010 - knocked down to Mark Purdon for $110,000. She was raced by Braeden and Caroline Whitelock. She won her first four races as a two year old and her two biggest wins were in the New Zealand Yearling Sales Series Two and Three Year Old Championship. She won $343,276. As a broodmare Dancing Diamonds has left two foals of racing age; Rock Diamonds which has won fourteen races in Australia including the Group Two Caduceus Club Classic at Gloucester Park, the Group Three John Higgins Memorial and Group Two Westral Four Year Old Classic both at Gloucester Park. The mare’s other foal is the unbeaten Art Major filly Princess Tiffany. Her five wins include the Group One Caduceus Club Two Year Old Fillies Classic and Two Year Old Diamond at this year’s Harness Jewells at Cambridge. The following year Trevor Lindsay from Australia bought Asabella’s Mach Three filly Bluegrass Belle for $52,000. She was exported to Australia but never raced. Things were about to get even better for the Creighton and Gillan breeding partnership. In 2013 and 2015 they bred the top lot at the Christchurch yearling sales. Both out of Asabella; Titanium was bought by Emilo and Mary Rosati for $170,000 in 2013 while two sales later the same couple bought Asabella’s next foal Bollinger for $200,000. Since then Robinson Crusoe ($24,500) and Brantley ($35,000) the mare’s next two foals, have sold but are currently unraced.  Asabella’s eight foals when sold at the sales grossed $664,000 that being an average of $83,000 per foal. “She’s eighteen now and we’re very keen to get a filly out of her to carry on the bloodline. She aborted a Bettor’s Delight filly about eighteen months ago and is in foal to Art Major so hopefully we get a filly at Christmas time. Those sales (Titanium and Bollinger) gave us a bit of money to buy into pacers. Phil had a quarter share in three horses with the Kennards and he gave me a half of his quarter share in all three horses. They all won. Meticulous was the best, he was a nice horse but he had a lot of injuries.” Meticulous was the first foal by Christian Cullen out of the Falcon Seelster mare Syriana, and she’s from the famed Black Watch family.  He was bought by Mark Purdon for $100,000 at the 2012 Australasian Classic Yearling Sales.  “I love the sales. I study the catalogue every night. I’m more of a theory man than being hands on.” Since then Stu’s had shares in seven to eight horses with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. “Thefixer’s been the best. He’s back in work.” Thefixer has won six of his eleven starts, and won his last two during Cup week last November. He hasn’t been sighted since. “He got a nail in the foot at Auckland. He came back and raced at Cup Week on both days but then it got infected so we turned him out for two months.” The Gillans also bought into Titan Banner in October 2015 after the horse had won five races. He went on to win another eleven with Pauline in the ownership and finished his New Zealand career when he ran second to Vincent in the 2017 Auckland Cup. They also purchased a share in the Art Major gelding Eamon Maguire which had won two workouts and qualified before they joined the ownership.   Bruce Stewart

Thursday will be one of the more important days on Monbet’s road to racing again. The champion trotter had his first public outing in nearly two years when he wasn’t asked for a serious effort in the main trot at the Rangiora trials on Wednesday.  Starting off a 40m handicap Monbet finished sixth in the 2600m trial won by Arnold in a relatively sedate time.  “Ricky (May, driver) never pulled him out,” said trainer Greg Hope.  “We will see how he is tomorrow but he seems fine so far,” he said on Wednesday night.  Hope’s caution is understandable as Monbet has been plagued by all sorts of issues since winning the Dominion in national record time two years ago and every time he looks set to return to the races something goes wrong.  But if he trots out a happy horse on Thursday morning it should be all go for his race return at Kaikoura on Monday where he joins arch rival Speeding Spur off a 10m handicap in the South Bay Cup.  Also heading to Kaikoura was the winner of the main pacing trial on Thursday in Cruz Bromac. The last-start Methven Cup winner downed stablemate Thefixer by a half neck in the 2600m stand with the pair pacing their last 800m in 56.5 seconds.  Cruz Bromac was allowed to miss the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on Monday and will join stablemate Eamon Maguire in the $50,000 Alabar Kaikoura Cup on Monday.  Thefixer is over a recent setback and is likely to join stablemate and NZ Cup favourite Ultimate Machete in their final lead-up race at Addington on November 2. Michael Guerin

Greg Hope had two open class reasons to smile yesterday. And that could mean the long wait for champion trotter Monbet to return to the track is almost over. Hope not only trains Monbet but New Zealand Cup contender A G’s White Socks and both are coming off setbacks of wildly different lengths. Monbet hasn’t raced for 23 months after an array of leg issues while A G’s White Socks was dragged off the track just minutes before Sunday’s Methven Cup after soft tissue damage believed to have been suffered in a raceday slip. But the news is good for both. Monbet made one of his first public appearances since winning the Dominion at the Cup carnival two years ago when Hope snuck him on to the Rangiora track for a workout yesterday. There was nothing official about it, with Monbet working solo over 2600m but it was as good as a trial and a massive step in the right direction. He trotted 3:24 for 2600m, his last 800m in 60 seconds and final 400m in 28 and most importantly pulled up sound. It was nice work and showed he is ready for a trial next week and then the races at Addington on November 2,” said Hope.  “After that, all going well, we will aim him at the Trotting Free-For-All on Cup Day (November 13).”  Hope and his wife Nina pulled Monbet out of the Dominion, New Zealand’s richest trotting race on November 17, because they believe they couldn’t get enough competitive miles into his legs in time for the gutbusting 3200m.  “And we want to do the right thing by the horse. He has won it before and it is a long season so we didn’t want to rush him.”  A G’s White Socks is improving steadily after his weird setback on Sunday and has accepted for Monday’s Flying Stakes at Ashburton and looks 90 per cent likely to start.  “What happened last Sunday was very strange. I actually worked him the morning of the race and he was great then we put him away for a while before taking him to the races.  “During that break I think he must have slipped and hurt himself a little bit. There was no sign of it at the races until he started to warm up and we had to pull him off the track.  “But I am confident we are over that now and can still get the racing into him he needs for the New Zealand Cup.” Monday’s 2400m stand looks the most important New Zealand Cup lead-up of the season so far with many of the big namesheadlined by Dream About Me (barrier 1), Eamon Maguire (2), Ultimate Machete (7) and Star Galleria (8), with A G’s White Socks to start from barrier nine if he makes the race.  In the Flying Mile for the trotters Harriet Of Mot (barrier 2, but likely to start to one) and Great Things Happen (likely barrier 2) have got the best of the draws in what is traditionally New Zealand’s fastest open class trotting mile. Michael Guerin

Harness racing stewards have today spoken with co-trainer Greg Hope regarding A G’s White Socks following its late scratching in the preliminary of the Methven Cup on Sunday the 14th of October.   Mr Hope reported the horse to have appeared lame in it’s right hind leg when warming up and so was withdrawn.   The gelding was further examined later that day and found to be suffering from some swelling to the sacroiliac joint which was found to be the cause of the lameness. Mr Hope reported that treatment was initiated and he has been pleased with the horses response and its subsequent track work.   He felt the horse was, as of today, very close to full health and with the time available before the Ashburton Flying Stakes on Monday was confident the horse will be fully recovered. AG’s White Socks remains stood down pending a Veterinary clearance.     Nick Ydgren Chief Stipendiary Steward Harness Racing

Trainer Greg Hope is 100 per cent confident champion trotter Monbet will make it back to the races this year even though it has been over 20 months since he has graced the track. The rising seven-year-old hasn’t raced since a national record win in the Dominion at Addington on November 11, 2016, missing most of that season and the entire of  this one. Monbet has actually had two preparations since that stunning win but has failed to stand up to training on both occasions with the pin being pulled on this season when he was just a week away from racing. But Hope says the 2016 Horse of the Year could have actually raced this season and probably would have had he been a normal horse. “He had knee issues and being such a great horse we didn’t want to take any chances with him,” he explains. “He has had stem cell injections there, two courses, and he is as sound as he can be at the moment. “Things can always go wrong with horses but at this stage, unless something else comes up, I am sure we will get him back to the races. “Then it will be a matter of getting him back to his best and that could take a little longer because he has been away from racing for such a long time. “The temptation will be there to have him ready to go in his very first start back but I don’t think we can expect that. “I don’t want to put that level of pressure on him in training so I’d rather get him ready to race and let him come to peak through racing.” Monbet is likely to trial mid-September with races like the Flying Mile at Ashburton in October obvious aims as he heads toward another New Zealand Cup meeting. After that Hope and wife Nina will have a big decision to make, whether to test Monbet’s troublesome legs out at the Inter Dominions in Victoria in December as the trotting series is reborn.  With this season’s open class trotting ranks having seen no dominant trotter emerge, if Monbet can return to his best he would almost certainly be the best trotter in Australasia again, which makes the $17 some bookies are quoting for the Inter Dominions tempting to some. One key rival Monbet won’t have to worry about should be make it to either the NZ Cup carnival or Inter Dominions is stablemate Enghien. The four-year-old is one of the best open class prospects in the country but Hope says he is on an extended break and may not race until coming north in December. But the horse who has emerged as Enghien’s arch rival, Habibi Inta, will be up and racing well before then. Trainer Paul Nairn says the enormously-improved Jewels winner will be back and ready to race in the traditional major spring trots heading into the NZ Cup carnival. “He had a very good end to his last campaign and I think his manners will take him a long way in open class,” said Nairn. “So you could even see him in the early trots, races like the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup.  But the outlook is not so positive for Habibi Inta’s older sister Habibti Ivy, a former Rowe Cup runner-up who hasn’t raced since finishing second in the Flying Mile at Ashburton last October.  “While nothing is confirmed yet I don’t think she will make it back to the track and she will probably be retired to stud,” said Nairn.  That would still leave the master trainer with former Jewels winner Wilma’s Mate and Ronald J in his open class team to take on Monbet and the likes of Great Things Happen this spring. Monbet Record: 34 starts, 23 wins, five placings. Earnings: $770,714 Highlights: Rowe Cup, Dominion, Anzac Cup, National Trot, 4-y-o Jewels, NZ Free-For-All (twice), Australasian Trotting Champs. Honours: 2015-16 Horse of the Year, three national records. Michael Guerin

Tough summer love paid huge winter dividends for Habibi Inta in the sensation race at the Harness Jewels on Saturday. While there were better winning performances on the nine group one raceday, the four-year-old trot was controversial even before it started, with hot favourite Enghien galloping from barrier three in the score-up and driver Ricky May choosing to start from the unruly for the second attempt. Enghien galloped again, losing his winning chance and burning punters, but trainer Greg Hope backed May’s call 100 per cent. “If I had a phone and was able top call Ricky after that first gallop I would have told him to do exactly what he did, start from the unruly,” said Hope. “It was a real shame because he went enormous after galloping. I am starting to think maybe he just doesn’t like Cambridge.” While the incident would have left Enghien punters feeling sour at least the three minute hold up gave some a chance to cover their bets on Habibi Inta, who unlike his arch rival never put a hoof wrong and won easily from in front. And his trainer Paul Nairn says this new, more mature Habibi Inta may have been forged on the rugged hills of Waikari in North Canterbury. “Last season he could be a bit weak, both physically and mentally, so we chucked him into a big paddock on the hills up there and left him there for three months,” says Nairn. “I went back and got him on New Year’s Day and was thrilled with what I saw. He was bigger and stronger and had grown up and he has raced liked that. “The hills are pretty rugged there and they have to keep themselves fit just walking around. Its been great for him. “He has all the tools to be a genuine open class horse next season now.” Habiba Inta always looked a good horse waiting to happen and Saturday was his graduation day. He can now trot 1:56 miles from a mobile, begin quickly from a stand, win over any distance and has developed into being just as potent left or right-handed. That suggests he is Nairn’s next seriously good horse at a time when the career of his older sister Habibti Ivy, a national record holder, is in doubt. But Nairn has two more past Jewels winners in One Over Da Moon and Wilma’s Mate, who returns to jogging soon, to work with also. Which is just as well as the Canterbury trainer is going to have a few more bills in the new season, he and new wife Vangie are expecting their first child together next month.  “We are both very excited and wins like this will help,” smiled Nairn. Habibi Inta’s win mirrored that on Saturday’s two other trots, with both Enhance Your Calm and Winterfell big strong boys who led throughout from good draws. Winterfell has been a huge improver in the last three months and looks an open class star of the future while Enhance Your Calm is unbeaten and so in the zone for a trip to Victoria, where he is owned, for the Breeders Crown wouldn’t surprise. Michael Guerin

Relaxing at a Marlborough vineyard sounds like a lovely way to spend a couple of days. Unless you are supposed to be 800km away preparing two of the favourites for today's Harness Jewels at Cambridge. Welcome to the week of trainer Greg Hope, the man behind Enghien and A G's White Socks, who have the draws and group one records to both win their four-year-old Jewels today. Enghien is a genuine open class trotter up against mainly intermediate grade horses while A G's White Socks beat key rivals Eamon Maguire and Star Galleria in the Taylor Mile six weeks ago. But their week has hardly gone to plan after their Cook Strait ferry crossing was cancelled on Sunday and they had to spend three unexpected nights in Marlborough until they crossed on Wednesday, getting to Cambridge that night. "The first day we just jogged them around the grape vines at my sister's farm in Seddon, where we stayed," says Hope. "It was a bit different but I kinda think they enjoyed it. "And then we worked them properly at the Waterlea track on Tuesday so they haven't actually missed any major work." Hope's main concern was whether the extended trip would tire or tie up the talented pair but blood tests taken on Thursday allayed those fears. "Their blood came back perfect and they worked really well on the Cambridge track on Thursday so I am very happy. "Enghien is spot on but of course he might have to sit parked to win whereas A G's White Sock has had a long season like plenty of these horses at the Jewels. But he is very well." Hope isn't the only trainer thinking an unusual preparation could lead to the winner's circle today, with champion trainer Mark Purdon adamant Princess Tiffany (race one) is better now than before she drove a nail through her hoof on race night at Alexandra Park six weeks ago "She is well over that and has really gone ahead in the last few weeks," says Purdon. "Even from her barrier draw she is the best chance of our three in that race and I can see her following Kayla Marie into the race. But she still might have to sit parked to win." After a bizarre week, Purdon says he is happy with all 21 charges he and Natalie Rasmussen will take to Cambridge today, with the draw seeing him lean toward Shez All Rock in the three-year-old Diamond. "She took a few days to settle in up here but is spot on now." He is happy with their huge team and in the other races where they have multiple starters he rates Enhance Your Calm (race two), Winterfell (race eight) and Sicario (race nine) their best hopes. "But I don't think there is anything between Another Masterpiece and Jesse Duke in the juvenile pace. It could just come down to who gets the better run." Horses in drugs scare get the all-clear The 10 harness horses at the centre of a drug contamination scare this week have all been cleared to start at today's Jewels meeting. Precautionary tests requested by trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen (nine horses) and Terry and Glenys Chmiel (Dibaba) and conducted by the Racing Integrity Unit showed no presence of drugs in any horse. The unusual concerns were raised when two, now former, staff members of the All Stars stables were believed to have used recreational drugs in the last week and had been in contact with all 10 of the horses tested as they were transported from Canterbury to Waikato. One of the staff members provided a sample to a professional drug tester called in by Purdon and returned a positive while the other refused a test and both were subsequently dismissed. Purdon and Rasmussen contacted the RIU on Wednesday and asked for all nine of their horses who had been in contact with the two employees be tested to ensure they were drug-free heading into today's $1,275,000 meeting, while Dibaba as also tested as it has come north on the same transporter. All 10 horses will take their places at today's meeting, which boasts nine group one races. The TAB, which had been asked by the RIU on Wednesday to suspend betting on six of the Jewels races, re-opened those at 4.30pm yesterday. "The RIU is very pleased with the result. The integrity system worked as it should," said RIU general manager Mike Godber. "The trainers were proactive in advising the RIU of the potential contamination." Michael Guerin

It might seem strange two of Auckland's greatest staying races are so dependent on what happens at the start, three or even four minutes before the finish. But the start might be the winning and losing of the two biggest group ones at Alexandra Park tonight. Both the $150,000 Rowe Cup and $100,000 Messenger have enough depth to make them even but their natural lead-up races last Friday — the Anzac Cup and Taylor Mile — suggested trainer Greg Hope has the horse to beat in both. A G's White Socks led, trailed and bolted away with the Taylor Mile and has the draw to potentially do something similar in the Messenger, while Enghien has been so good in his last two starts, including the Anzac Cup when he was pushed off the track down the back straight, he is clearly the trotter to beat in the Rowe Cup.   But both face very obvious challenges in the early stages of their races. A G's White Socks might, and it is only a might, have the gate speed to hold Eamon Maguire and Star Galleria at the start of the 2700m mobile Messenger and if he does Hope will be reluctant to see driver Ricky May trail like he did last week. "I think if we hand the lead to Eamon Maguire then he will hand to his stablemate (More The Better) and we are three deep on the markers and in trouble," says Hope. "Ricky and I have discussed it and we are of the mind that if he leads we will want to stay there and take our chances." A G's White Socks's two recent group one wins, the other being the Easter Cup three starts ago, have been when he trailed and the possibility of him wanting to lead throughout if he can hold fast beginner Eamon Maguire at the start, sets the tone for a competitive race. While most major Alexandra Park staying races are won by the horses saving ground on the markers, any early battle could play into the hooves of Star Galleria, who emerges as the value in the race. But Eamon Maguire, still a very new recruit to the All Stars, was the run of the race when second in the Taylor Mile and if he crosses straight to the front he has all the options. The start of the Rowe Cup may not be as much about options as manners, with Enghien still very much a work in progress and one who has had very few standing starts on a full front line in his career. That could mean some early nerves for both he and punters tonight but Hope is confident he will handle the stand. "He is actually a very sensible horse and can begin quickly," says Hope. "When he did gallop from a stand three start ago it wasn't his fault, he got a shock when horses rushed up behind him because he had blinkers on. "But I am confident he will get it right and I am sure he is better than when he ran second in the Anzac Cup last Friday." That, coupled with the mixed form of many of his rivals, makes Enghien the horse to beat but you can make each way cases for Speeding Spur (draw and career record), Lemond (blazing Anzac Cup win) and Harriet Of Mot (occasional bursts of brilliance). The two other group ones tonight are vastly different. It is silly to bet against Winterfell in the Trotting Derby while the Sires' Stakes Championship has been thrown wide open by the unfortunate scratching of Princess Tiffany.   Michael Guerin

Harness racing has lost one of its most heart-warming characters with the death of Morrie Molloy. Molloy, a part-owner of champion trotter Monbet, died on Monday, two and a half weeks after suffering a heart attack. "We saw him last week and he had had a pacemaker put in but he wasn't happy," said Monbet's trainer Greg Hope. The Hope family had known Morrie for over 30 years, since Greg leased trotter That's That to race off Molloy. Morrie had got into the racing business through Max Bowden, whose Christchurch business was above a cafe Morrie owned. "He met Max and ended up breeding a few by Clever Innocence," remembers Hope. "That included the trotter That's That, which we leased off him and he would have had well over 100 wins as a owner, most of them with us training." It was Monbet who understandably gave Morrie his greatest joy in racing, claiming trotting's greatest races and putting him front and centre in the victory ceremonies at Alexandra Park and Addington as well as at the national awards, when Monbet claimed Horse of the Year. That was when the real extent of Morrie's passion and courage came to the fore. During the Monbet run of success, Morrie's battle with Parkinson's became harder, to the point he struggled to speak publicly. But they made Monbet's victories and Morrie's speeches all the more special, with his frank humour about his limitations a stark reminder as to what is really important. It meant that Monbet's presentations were really about Morrie's fight, and finding joy in the toughest of times. Michael Guerin

The odds are stacking up against one of New Zealand’s most talented horses. Because champion trotter Monbet is out of the New Zealand Cup carnival, almost certainly the summer and probably the whole season. And while trainer Greg Hope still remains optimistic we will see the best of the one-time Horse of the Year, doubts must be creeping into his mind and those of his army of followers. Monbet was supposed to have his first public trial this year at Ashburton today as as lead-up to his much-anticipated return in the Flying Mile on that track next Monday. But Hope has pulled the pin on both of those and says the defence of his Dominion title at the New Zealand Cup meeting is also over. “He is not quite right and he is too good to take any risks with,” says Hope, who trains the six-year-old with his wife Nina. “He has been nagged by something for a while and I think the knee we took the bone chips out of last season is still worrying him. “And that is now making him off-load and hurt his other knee. “Some people tell me he is fine and the vets say it isn’t that bad but I am not going to risk him because I’d hate to make it worse.  “He is still only six and if we look after him I hope we can get him back.  “But basically the Cup carnival is gone and so too is the summer probably. “What we will do next is looking at some stem cell injections in that area and if that all goes well hopefully we could get him back for the Rowe Cup in May. “But it is all a bit up in the air at the moment.” Monbet was crowned harness Horse of the Year last year but the bone chips saw him only race three times last season. That trio of starts reminded racing fans why he may be our most talented trotter since Lyell Creek as after a fresh-up win in the Flying Mile he won both the NZ Free-For-All and Dominion in national record time. He has not been seen in public since and trotting has been the worse for it. For all Hope’s optimism, Monbet’s body has often struggled with the demands of his record-breaking motor and the fact he couldn’t even make it back to the trials this campaign doesn’t boost confidence we are going to see any sustained racing from him this season or maybe ever again.  The TAB got whiff of Monbet’s problems two weeks ago and opened a market for the Dominion with him excluded from the getting and only re-opened their main market it with him in the futures betting yesterday. It is now closed again.  Last season’s injury cost Monbet’s connections a fortune as most of the group one trots Australasia-wide were won by horses who wouldn’t live with a fully fit and sound Monbet.  That class void worsened when his arch rival Speeding Spur was injured twice and missed many of the top races last season as as well while trotting millionaire Stent is still making his way back from injury.  He continues that path at the Motukarara trials today and could still make the New Zealand Cup meeting although he hasn’t raced for over 21 months.  The reports are good though for Speeding Spur, who has done two works faster work after a four-month slow build-up.  “He feels good and we have the green light with him to press so but he won’t make the Cup carnival,” says co-trainer John Dickie.  “But all going well, and I think it will because his injuries haven’t been because of unsoundness, we could have him back racing by mid December.” While Ashburton face having no Monbet for their huge meeting next Monday they have left entries open after securing only six nominations for the Flying Stakes, including four from the All Stars.  NZ Cup favourites Lazarus and Heaven Rocks warm up for that race with a workout at Ashburton today. Michael Guerin

The Woodlands Stud 2017 Canterbury Breeders, Owners, Trainers and Drivers Association’s Harness Racing Awards were held in Christchurch last Saturday night in front of a large audience.  Results from the awards were: New Zealand Cup Golf Week Trotting Owner of the Year: Ken Ford (Marcoola). Canterbury Standardbred Breeders Association Pacing Breeder of the Year: Gavin Chin and Brian West (Lazarus). Junior Driver-of-the-Year: Sheree Tomlinson. NZ Cup Golf Week Pacing Owner of the Year: Terry McDonald. Canterbury Standardbred Breeders Association Pacing Broodmare of the Year: Back In The USSR (Don Bates). Canterbury Trainers & Drivers Association Drivers Award: Dexter Dunn. NZ Cup Golf Week Owner of the Year: Greg Hope. Canterbury Standardbred Breeders Association Trotting Breeder of the Year: Darryl Brown (Eyre I Come). Natalie Rasmussen & Mark Purdon Trainer's Award: Brad Mowbray. Canterbury Standardbred Breeders Association Trotting Broodmare of the Year: Juliana (dam of Dark Horse). Woodlands Stud Accomplishment Award: Julie De Filippi. Woodlands Stud Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing: Reg Storer Harnesslink

A pleasant surprise from the handicapper has ended Enghien's Australian assault before it began. The champion three-year-old trotter was supposed to be heading to Victoria this week for Sunday's A$75,000 Victoria Derby and then the Breeders Crown later in the month, two group ones he would have been the red hot favourite for. But trainer Greg Hope has pulled the pin on the trip after discovering Enghien will be better treated than expected in the rating system this season. "We have found out he will come back as a rating 85 horse because the rating will be capped at the end of his three-year-old season [yesterday]," says Hope. "Initially I thought he would come back rated like a 110 or something and to me that meant his four-year-old season would have been almost a write off so it made sense to go to Australia for these last two races. "But with the handicapping being capped now he can come back on a realistic mark next season so we will definitely race him at four now." Hope and his wife Nina still could have taken Enghien to Victoria but say lessons learned with superstar stablemate Monbet have them erring on the side of caution. "I think you can over-race them when they are young and still developing. "He is mucking around at the stable here now and when the weather improves he will have a good break, maybe until December." That will come as a huge relief to the trainers of his Australian rivals as Enghien was as short at $1.20 with some bookies for the Breeders Crown. While Enghien is heading for a break, Monbet continues to thrill Hope as he edges toward his return. "He has been jogging for nearly two months and I am rapt with him," said Hope. "Obviously we had him operated on to get some bone chips out and the way he is behaving now I think they might have been bothering him a lot longer than we realise. "His attitude is the best it has ever been. He seems really happy." Monbet is being aimed at the Flying Mile at Ashburton in October before defending his Dominion title at Cup week but the Hopes still plan to restrict him to a six to eight-start season. "I think if we don't over-tax him we can get two or three more seasons out of him." Reprinted with permission of The New Zealand Herald

It is a bit like asking a parent which one of their kids they love more. So you can forgive trainer Greg Hope for taking an awfully long pause before answering what might be the question of the trotting season. Because the battle for Trotter of the Year as the annual awards in August will come down to a pair of horses -- both trained by Hope and his wife Nina -- who have had wildly contrasting seasons. In one corner is undoubtedly New Zealand’s best trotter Monbet, who only raced three times this season and won them all. More importantly two of those wins were of the highest quality, national records in both the Dominion and NZ Free-For-All during Cup week before niggles ruled him out for the season. In the other corner is his less talented, but in the contest of this season better performed, three-year-old stablemate Enghien, like Monbet a son of French stallion Love You. He has raced nine times, winning eight and only beaten in the other because he galloped. To add to his case he has won every race that matters, the two trotting Derbys, the Harness Jewels and the group two Sires’ Stakes as well as the Sales Series. His domination has been compete and utter and even though driver Ricky May couldn’t give him his head on Saturday because he wasn’t trotting faultlessly,he still won. Enghien’s season is far from finished, with two more group ones in Victoria on the horizon. “We are definitely heading there because there isn’t a lot for them as four-year-olds so we might as well take what we can get now,” said Hope. “So he will contest a Breeders Crown heat here at Addington, then go to the Victoria Derby in August and then Breeders Crown final at the end of that month.” Victory in either or both of those won’t aid Enghien’s bid for Trotter of the Year as the awards are voted on by the media before his Australian campaign begins. So the question will be: do three wins at the highest level, the last of them recorded by Monbet in November, trump eight wins from nine starts spread from the heat of December to the chill of June? “Its a tough question,” says Hope, who simply doesn’t want to answer it. “I mean, I think we all know Monbet is the best trotter in the country and Enghien isn’t in his class yet. “But I also suppose trotter of the year isn’t about the best horse but the best season. “If it was about the best horse then Monbet has to get it. But if it is about the best season then it is hard to argue with what Enghien has done.” Enghien’s win capped a remarkable last two seasons for the Hopes, with their future trainer and chief statistician son Ben telling Dad something he didn’t know. “After that win on Saturday we have now trained the winner at least once of all the major trotting races for young horses we had have a starter in for in the last couple of years. “That means the Derbys, the Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series and now all three Jewels. We needed the three-year-old Jewels because Monbet finished second in that so Enghien completed the set. “Ben keeps on top of these things so that’s kinda cool to have done that.” Hope says while the training is a family affair, some of the credit for their rapid rise to the top of trotting has to go to stallion Love You. “He has been huge for us and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.” Love You also sired Saturday’s two-year-old trot winner Paramount King and the runner-up in the four-year-old trot in Gentleman Sir. Monbet’s season: Three starts, three wins. * Two national records  Two group ones and a group three win. Enghien’s season: Nine starts, eight wins. One national record. Three group ones and one group two win. Michael Guerin  

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