Big stage awaits Muscle Mountain
By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk
Muscle Mountain continued his rich vein of form at Ashburton Raceway on Monday when comfortably winning the “What The Hill” Ashburton Trotters Flying Sprint (1700m).
He won the race last year in record time, but driver Ben Hope wasn’t out to break the clock in this year’s edition, knowing he has bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks.
“I didn’t want him to have a hard run. We went quite hard last week, and he was quite keen in the warm-up, so I didn’t really want to rile him up too much,” said Hope, whose parents Greg and Nina Hope train the gelding.
As expected, Hope was strong off the gate and took an early lead where he remained unchallenged until Mark Purdon set Oscar Bonavena alight down the back straight to keep the $1.30 race favourite honest.
Muscle Mountain comfortably saw off his challenger in the straight and ran out a 2-1/2 length victor over Majestic Man, with a further 1-1/4 lengths back to Five Wise Men in third.
Given the pace of the race, Hope anticipated the challenge from Purdon and his faith in his charge never faulted.
“We were going quite slow, which engaged other people to go around him, but I knew my horse would be able to cop that and he did it pretty easy,” Hope said.
“When you are driving a horse of this calibre it is hard not to be confident.”
Monday’s win was Muscle Mountain’s third this preparation, adding to his Group 3 Ordeal Trotting Cup (2600m) and Group 3 Canterbury Trotting Cup (2600m) triumphs.
He broke at the start costing himself all hope in his only other outing this campaign, but his connections believe they have got on top of those issues and are looking forward to the Gr.1 Dominion Trot (3200m) at Addington Raceway in a fortnight.
“Two weeks is a long time in racing, but he has impressed me with every start and I am looking forward to the big dance,” Hope said.