Greg Hope confident
Record: 34 starts, 23 wins, five placings.
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.
By Michael Guerin
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.