Hope springs eternal for Greg and Nina
By Garrick Knight
When it comes to Monbet, Greg Hope is sick of talking to the media.
For the best part of three years now, he has done his best to answer regular questions about the recovery and progress of the former Horse of the Year that has suffered setback after setback.
It got to the stage that he started to think talking to the press when Monbet was nearing a public return was a bad omen.
So often after commenting on an impending return to the trials, the horse would go amiss or suffer a setback.
But then, when Monbet was struck down again in March – and this time nearly died - after finally making a race track return, Hope started to wonder whether it was just the racing gods at work.
So, this week, after both Monbet and stablemate Enghien returned to the trials at Rangiora, he was finally willing to talk to the press about his stable stars.
Monbet, the 2016 New Zealand Horse of the Year and two-time Trotter of the Year, has raced just once since winning the Dominion Handicap in November of 2016.
After numerous setbacks - too many to list - he returned back in March, finishing mid-pack on a Sunday at Addington.
But the stable’s relief was short-lived.
“About a week later he developed an infection in his leg that went right through his body,” Hope told HRNZ.
“At one stage we were frightened he was going to die.
“We ended up running every antibiotic known to man through him and that eventually got on top of it.”
So, it was back to square one – again for Hope and wife/training partner Nina.
It’s hard to complain when a horse has won you over $770,000 but you get the impression Hope was at the end of his tether.
“One day we’ll be able to write a book about him. We’ll call it ‘The Trials and Tribulations of Monbet,” he quipped.
“It will be a best-seller.”
Enghien, a former two and three-year-old Trotter of the Year, hasn’t been seen since the Harness Jewels at Cambridge in June of last year.
He missed his entire five-year-old season.
“He had a little strain on a fetlock so we played it safe, really.
“Just to make sure it didn’t end up being a problem long term we played it on the side of caution.
“He’s good as gold now after a long, slow build. It’s probably been five months since he came back in to work.”
Enghien, in the hands of Ben Hope, won the four-horse trial, getting over the top of In Sequence and Hey Yo in the shadows of the post.
Monbet sat last, on his stablemates back, and was allowed to run to the line under his own steam for regular driver, Ricky May.
Greg Hope, speaking 24 hours after the trial, was suitably pleased with everything.
“Ricky jumped off Monbet and said he felt awesome.
“They both pulled up well and I gave them a light jog this morning (Thursday).
“They’ll trial again next week and then we’ll have a look at a race for them.”
That won’t be easy.
“They’re so high in the handicaps, we really need a free for all because I don’t want them chasing off long marks.
“Enghien is rated 100 and Monbet is a 127.”
Hope said he enquired about getting Monbet’s rating reduced given it was approaching three years since his last win, but that fell on deaf ears.
Enghien is the more forward of the two, and with a slightly more palatable rating, he might be the first one seen on race night.
“Based on what we’ve felt, Enghien is slightly more forward than Monbet, and their heart rates reflect that, too.
“There is nothing like a good run or two under the belt and hopefully we can get those runs before the other good ones hit the track.”
Don’t for a second think either horse will have lost their edge, either.
“I’ve got no doubt they’re both as good as anything running around at present.
“I know they’ve had a long time off the scene and are going to need a race or two to see the best, but it’s still there.”
As for driving engagements when they inevitably clash, Hope says May will get the pick of the two and son Ben will drive the other.
“We are lucky that we own Monbet ourselves and our partner in Enghien, Richard Dellaca, is very relaxed about it, too.”