Hope scales mountain, wins first group race
By Jonny Turner
Canterbury junior driver Ben Hope scored a career highlight when he drove Muscle Mountain to victory in the group 3 New Zealand Trotting Stakes at Addington on Saturday.
Hope produced a cool tactical drive to win the first group race of his career with the two-year-old trained by his parents, Greg and Nina.
“It was a huge thrill,” the reinsman said.
“It is the biggest highlight of my career – definitely.”
Hope was faced with a key tactical decision with a lap to go in the $30,000 feature.
Muscle Mountain’s main rival, Ultimate Stride, challenged him for the lead and the junior driver elected to take a trail behind the blueblood.
After a few nervous moments when Muscle Mountain was held up before the home turn, it proved to be a winning move.
“I have heard of the huge wraps they have got on Ultimate Stride and how good they think he is,” Hope said.
“I really respected Ultimate Stride and if it was any other horse I probably wouldn’t have handed up.”
“I was a little bit worried he would hand up to the parked horse.”
“But, when he got a little bit tired we were lucky enough to get off and get a run.”
Once Hope got Muscle Mountain off the back of the tiring Ultimate Stride and in to the clear, the trotter reeled in his rivals to score with utter ease.
“He is tough, but he has got a lot of speed.”
“As soon as I pulled him out he felt like the winner, he felt like he was going to go bang and he did.”
“He ran a 27sec last 400m and he did it pretty comfortably, really, and he wasn’t really pushed.”
“He has certainly got the speed and the toughness.”
Sectional times showed Muscle Mountain ran his last 400m in 27.98sec.
Third placegetter, Tailored Elegance, produced the race's fastest closing sectional in 27.90sec.
Muscle Mountain showed poise that several of his rivals could not when breaking runners caused two false starts.
The New Zealand Trotting Stakes finally got underway during attempt number three.
“He was just walking around like it was nothing to him.”
“That was a really good sign, because if they have got the temperament they are half way there.”
One Majic Kenny impressed with his hard fighting second placing behind Muscle Mountain.
The Robert Dunn trained trotter served it up to the leader, Ultimate Stride, in the last lap and fought resolutely in the straight.
Tailored Elegance ran home strongly for third after tracking the winner through on the home turn.