Age-group racing to the fore at Ashburton

The old and the new will combine at the Ashburton Trotting Club's Queen's Birthday weekend meeting on Sunday, June 5.

The meeting will feature a new race - the Group Three Helen Pope Stakes named after one of harness racing's pioneers - and will also see the return of an "oldie", the Champion Stakes for the three-year-olds.

Another feature will be the time-honoured Sapling Stakes.

The Helen Pope Stakes will be for the two-year-old pacing fillies. Helen Pope was the first woman to become president of the Ashburton Trotting Club, she later went on to be the first woman on the board of Harness Racing New Zealand. She was also inducted into the Addington Hall of Fame and was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014.

"It's great to be able to honour Helen Pope and her achievements with this race," says Ashburton TC president Peter Larkin, "she is from one of the great racing families and her contribution to the industry has been immense."

Pope was born into racing, her father Bill Doyle was an accomplished horseman as was his father before him, and Helen's two sisters Denise Nyhan and Lyn Smith have also had considerable success over the years.

The Champion Stakes first started in 1933. Among its notable winners were Caduceus (1953), three-time New Zealand Cup winner False Step (1955), Lordship (1961) and Inky Lord (1988).

It was last held in 1990.

"The club just thought it was time to bring it back," says Larkin, "and we are hopeful in the future it will become a Group race."

This year it will be worth $20,000.

"It used to be part of the so-called Triple Crown for the three-year-olds along with the New Zealand Derby and the Great Northern Derby."

The day's feature will be the Group 2 $50,000 Sapling Stakes. It's a race with a rich history that dates all the way back to 1919, with Lordship, Inky Lord, Noodlum and Young Quinn among past winners.

This year the Sapling Stakes is the fourth leg of the features for the two-year-olds with Don't Stop Dreaming winning the first three - the Kindergarten Stakes, the Diamond Creek Farm Classic and Friday's Welcome Stakes.

Whether he can complete the full set by taking out the Sapling Stakes as well will be known on Sunday, June 5.

"It should be a cracker day's racing," says Larkin.

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