Mixed news for Kiwi stars - Muscle Mountain's Aussie trip is off
By Michael Guerin
The Kiwi invasion on Australia’s harness racing riches has gained two exceptional pacers but lost a trotting star.
Dual New Zealand Cup winner Copy That and the country’s newest open class pacing force Old Town Road leave for Melbourne tomorrow (Wednesday), with the Ballarat Cup and Hunter Cup their targets.
But while that adds some serious Kiwi interest to the Victorian summer the bad luck for New Zealand’s best trotters chasing Group 1s over there continues with Muscle Mountain’s much-anticipated campaign over before it began.
Muscle Mountain was being aimed at the Great Southern Star at Melton in early February, which sees horses contest a heat and final in the same night.
Being over sprint trips the Great Southern Star looked perfect for Muscle Mountain but the campaign has been scrapped after he contracted a virus.
“It actually came on before Christmas,” says driver Ben Hope, whose parents Greg and Nina train Muscle Mountain.
“He was still working well but after one of those workouts he pulled up with discharge coming out of both his nostrils.
“He has been slow to recover from it and while it won’t be a long-term issue obviously because its only a virus the timing could hardly have been worse.
“He has missed so much work he won’t be ready for Melbourne and it is really gutting because I can’t think of a race that would suit him better.”
Muscle Mountain’s withdrawal from the Great Southern Star continues a disappointing summer for New Zealand’s elite trotters after series hot favourite Bolt For Brilliance broke down during the Inter Dominions in December.
He is recovering from a fracture in his leg in Victoria before returning home to trainer Tony Herlihy but his prognosis for a return to racing is good.
Copy That and Old Town Road warmed up for their Victorian trip at the Pukekohe workouts last Friday, having to take that route after their race at Cambridge on Saturday night was canned.
Old Town Road, having not raced since the NZ Free-For-All two months ago, was in more need of a serious hitout to convince trainer John Dickie he was ready for Australia and Dickie liked what he saw.
Old Town Road beat Copy That by a neck in the 2500m mobile trial, the pair pacing their last 800m in 55.2 seconds, the final 400m in 25.6 seconds, about as fast as any horse has officially gone around Pukekohe.
“He needed a proper hit out and we couldn’t have been happier with that,” says Dickie.
"So we are thrilled to be taking him and the way his trip to Christchurch bought him on last campaign we are confident he will be even better for this trip.”
Dickie has an impressive strike rate with trotters in major Victorian races, having won the Great Southern Star, Victoria Derby and multiple Breeders Crown Trots but he has never campaigned a pacer in Australia.
Dickie shares in the ownership of Old Town Road, as does his son Josh who now lives in Victoria where he trains and drives. But regular driver Zachary Butcher will continue his association with Old Town Road during the Australian campaign.
Waiting for the two northern superstars in both the Ballarat and Hunter Cups will be another former New Zealand driver in Anthony Butt, who has become the new pilot for Rock N Roll Doo in bizarre fashion.
Rock N Roll Doo over-raced as hot favourite in the Bendigo Cup on Saturday and started to choke down so trainer-driver Michael Stanley chose to ease him out of the race and when doing so another rival ran into the back of him and its knees struck Stanley, fracturing two bones in his back.
That will keep him out of the sulky for at least six weeks and Stanley has called up Butt, who has won seven Hunter Cups, to drive Rock N Roll Doo in coming weeks.