Methven first for McMullan

NZ HARNESS NEWS

Simon McMullan will set off for Methven on Sunday for the first time as a trainer knowing that it is likely to be an eventful trip.

Eventful because McMullan will line up promising three-year-old trotter Tonique De Feu for his season’s debut in the opening race and he is likely to be first or pulled up, and probably not anything in between, while McMullan has also been taking care of leading New Zealand Cup contender Star Galleria and he will be a big factor in the Methven Cup.

McMullan started out with Brent Lilley while still at school and spent time with Benny Hill before going north and, eventually, into a training partnership with Steven Reid, but he has only once been to the Mt Harding course before.

“I can recall driving a maiden pacer at Methven for Andrew Grant when he came down with Not Likely for the Trotting Oaks and Derby (in 2012),” said McMullan.

“The horse was no good but I remember the track as being superb to drive on.”

McMullan moved back to Canterbury at the start of the year to be closer to his ailing father and more recently has been preparing a small team alongside Paul Court at Pinelea Farm in West Melton.

Reid sent Star Galleria south last week for the Canterbury Classic and McMullan says his scratching was more of a precaution when they deferred to Methven instead.

“He’d obviously been racing very well up north but his pacing action wasn’t quite right and he had the odd wee niggle.

“There was no issue with his fitness but we reasoned rather than racing him at Addington when he was only 90% right, it would be better to fix the problem and take him to Methven when he was 100%.

“Steven came down this week and his work was outstanding (on Wednesday) so we’re back on track.”

Star Galleria hasn’t seen a grass track either at any stage of his career but that is not really an issue on the brilliantly manicured Methven course.

However, it will become an issue for both Star Galleria and Tonique De Feu if a dodgy weather outlook turns the track into a bog.

“I’m not too worried about the rain if it clears in time as I know how well and quickly the track can drain.

“But if they get the snow and it looks like being a bog come Sunday morning, then neither horse will start as they’re both too good to risk with that sort of carry on.

“Hopefully things work out alright as Star Galleria only has Ashburton and the Cup Trial remaining on his Cup schedule and he needs the racing.”

Tonique De Feu quickly showed up in juvenile trials in April as a horse with a big future, but he lost the plot in two races when McMullan was trying to get him qualified for the Jewels.

It has been a similar story from stands at the trials lately as McMullan has prepared him to kick off at Methven, but if ever there was a Black Booker to take home from a day at the trials it was him at Rangiora last week.

The impressive Repeat Love gelding reappeared at the Rangiora trials a week earlier, but blew the start for Ricky May and was pulled up.

Later he started in the main trotting heat for the barrier practice and went away before being pulled out of it.

Tonique De Feu again made a meal of the start at the trials last week, but returned half an hour later with McMullan driving and stepped away as a non-competitor against older race winners.

He moved up in the open from the 900m and at the finish was alongside the pacemaker Tehoro Dazzle (3 wins) with the trailer Justamollyarcher (6 wins) third after trailing with a gap to the rest.

“Once he’s under way he’s rock solid, but he’s tricky at the start and you need to stand him still and then give him his head, otherwise he steps away all pacey.

“I’m going to give him a real good prelim myself and I think Ricky knows a lot more about him now.

“He’s got a very big motor and is easily good enough to go around them and sit parked and win for fun.”

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