Ben Hope adjusting to "same but different"
By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk
Ben Hope is experiencing a lot of the familiar, and the unfamiliar, during his current stint across the Tasman.
The talented junior driver-trainer has been in Australia for two weeks now, based at the very successful stables run by ex-pat Kiwi Brent Lilley at Bolinda, north of Melbourne.
"It's going really well, it's a bit of a quieter period back home so I thought I'd come here and do some work experience," says Hope, "it's same but different."
Any thoughts he was heading from North Canterbury to a warmer climate have quickly changed.
At the night time trials at Bendigo where Hope caught up with harness racing personality Paul Campbell it was barely above freezing.
"It's certainly character building," Hope told Campbell's Comments, "and I'm learning a lot."
He's raced at a variety of tracks all over Victoria and got a better insight into the more aggressive Australian style of driving.
"So far I've had eight drives and a few placings ... hopefully that win isn't far away."
"I was second in a Group 3 at Ararat and that's a 800m track ... but Melton, that would be my favourite track here."
At Ararat Hope drove Baxter in the Premix King Ararat Tontine Trotting Championship. He's a horse he knows well. He was bred and raced by Ben's parents Greg and Nina Hope and had six wins from 50 starts before heading to Lilley's stable last year. The Hopes and the Lilleys have long been family friends.
While Ben Hope has left his star trotter Muscle Mountain behind Lilley has some superstars of his own, most notably Queen Elida, the winner of six this season and 24 overall.
"She's a super horse ... a phenomenal mare."
He also rubbed shoulders with Chris Alford, Australia's most successful driver ever, and a regular driver for the Lilley stable.
"Chris is one of the best, if not the best, and very easy to talk to."
Hope hasn't booked a return ticket yet though he's planning to be back for summer.
In saying that he's already eyeing up another trip to Australia with his multiple Group 1 winning star.
"I'd love to bring Muscle Mountain here for the Great Southern Star ... of all the races that would suit him the best by a mile."
The next Great Southern Star at Melton is set down for February next year.
It seems Hope and Australia are getting along just fine.