Berger's final stand at Manawatu

By Brigette Solomon

Tonight’s meeting at Manawatu will be Mike Berger’s final race meeting as a trainer with the well-respected Cambridge horseman acknowledging the time has come to hang up the boots.

“To be honest, I’m looking forward to retiring,” says Berger, “I’ve been doing it for 50 years and it’s most definitely a game of passion with a lot of work involved.”

Over the years Berger has had 552 training successes on his own account as well as 11 in partnership with Matthew White, 109 with Warren Rich, and 35 with Simon Pavlovich, giving him 707 in total.

Berger’s first training winner was Trade Direct in 1979 but some of his most notable performers over the years have been Gracious Knight, Facta Non Verba, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Coburg and V For.

His biggest moment came in 2002 , when training with Rich, they quinellaed the New Zealand Cup with Gracious Knight and Facta Non Verba.

In December he also won the Happy 70th Birthday Mike Berger Pace at Manawatu with one his own horses, Lady La Salle.

“I don’t have any immediate plans for the future, but I’ll be starting off with a break over winter and enjoying not having to work horses in the rain!”

“I’m also looking forward to getting away and spending a bit more time with the grandkids.”

Berger has four runners engaged at the meeting starting with Barbarossa in Race two, the Outback Trading Mobile Pace over 2500 metres, to be driven by Benjamin Butcher.

The gelding placed second to Molly Belwin on Tuesday, securing a good trip in the one out one back position in running and digging in well up the straight to finish the best of the rest from the runaway winner.

“Barbarossa went well enough on Tuesday and if the pace is on he should go alright again,” says Berger.

“He has done a good job over the past couple of years.”

Invisible, also driven by Butcher, starts in Race 5, the ITM Palmerston North Mobile Pace. The Always B Miki gelding finished fifth in his race on Tuesday, finishing strongly after being well back in running. Tonight the gelding starts from barrier two.

“I was initially a little disappointed with Invisible’s run on Tuesday, but he did get back and had to come wide in the run home,” says Berger, “he’s drawn two today which should help him stay a bit closer to the pace.”

Berger’s final starters for the evening are Oceanic Art and Rockafilly, driven by David Butcher and Benjamin Butcher respectively. The pair compete in Race seven, the C A Penny – Pick It Up And Win Fillies & Mares Mobile Pace over 2000 metres.

“It was nice to get a win with Oceanic Art on Tuesday although they didn’t run too much time,” says Berger, “Rockafilly had a bit of an out of the blue mare moment when she galloped in the score up the other night.”

“Hopefully that was a one off because I think she should go well in that field tonight.”

Berger has been a regular supporter of racing in the Manawatu and there is seldom a meeting where he hasn’t brought runners south from his Cambridge stable. It would be a fitting finale to the trainer’s career to send him off on a winning note.

Race one gets underway at 4:52pm.

Manawatu Review – 26.03.2024

Benjamin Butcher scored a winning treble at Tuesday's Manawatu meeting and was runner up in another two races.

“It really makes the trip worthwhile when you have a day like that and helps pay for nappies too!” says Butcher, who alongside wife Kelsey, welcomed their first baby, Maeve Jane, in February this year.

Butcher’s first winner came with Exhilarate in Race three, the Barry’s Tacky Tours Mobile Pace. Trained by David and Clare McGowan, it was the four-year-old gelding by Vincent’s first win.

Butcher opted to drop the gelding back from his starting position of five and sat one off four back in running. With 400 metres to travel, Butcher made his run three and four wide with Exhilarate making easy work to cover the field and win by just over a length.

“He’s a bit green and I had to keep on top of him, especially as the cord for the plugs broke and I couldn’t activate them,” says Butcher “But he won well, and it was a good win having to come from last.”

“He has a good draw (Thursday) and I think he’s one who should go near enough again.”

Dom Toretto, trained by Brian and Gareth Hughes, was Butcher’s next success taking out Race five, the ITM Mobile Pace. The gelding was strong off the mobile from his wide barrier draw and raced three wide early before finding the front where he remained. Butcher rated the gelding well to do just enough to hold off the second placed Cote D’Azur by half a head, with the pair four and a half lengths from the third placed Sweet Spirit.

“It was a good effort as he had to do a bit of work early to lead,” says Butcher, “he can be a bit relaxed without horses up with him and just does what he has to, but he stuck on and was good in the finish.”

The four-year-old son of Sweet Lou has now had two wins at this track and distance in his past three starts.

Butcher’s final winner of the night was Oceanic Art who took out Race nine, the Hilltop Bar & Restaurant Mobile Pace. Trained by Mike Berger, the filly brought up her second win with a start to finish front running drive by Butcher.

“She had a good draw and led comfortably,” says Butcher, “I was fairly confident I had them covered and she has been racing ok down there and was deserving of the win.”

The feature races were taken out by visiting trainers with Nicky Chilcott of Cambridge winning the Cartown Country Cup Handicap Trot with Del Shannon, Chilcott also drove the gelding who won by 1.25 lengths.

Tony Thomas, based at Waterlea Raceway in Blenheim, took out the T Market Fresh Country Cup Handicap Pace with Boudica, driven by Andre Poutama. It was the six-year-old Sportswriter mare’s seventh win bringing her earnings to just over $103,000 in stakes.



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