Muscle Mountain makes statement at Addington
By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk
Ben Hope wanted to make a statement with Muscle Mountain at Addington Raceway on Friday night, and the accomplished junior driver did just that.
There was a query surrounding Muscle Mountain’s standing start manners, but trainers Greg and Nina Hope were confident he would be on his best behaviour and the son of Muscle Hill backed their judgment and stepped away cleanly from his back mark in the Group 3 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup (2600m).
The five-year-old settled at the rear of the pack where Hope bided his time before asking his charge to loop the field to sit outside leader Chief Of Staff at the bell.
Key race rival Sundees Son broke at an inopportune time down the back straight and Hope capitalised on his mistake, pushing the go button on Muscle Mountain, who immediately responded and put several lengths on the field turning for home.
Hope took a couple of peeks across his shoulder down the straight and was pleased to see he had the field covered as Muscle Mountain ran out a 4-1/4 length victor in record time.
“His training has been awesome and I knew he would go pretty well if he stepped, and that he did,” Hope said.
“He felt awesome and he did it reasonably well and has broken the New Zealand record. I am really proud of the horse.”
While Hope said he wasn’t aware it was Sundees Son that had broken, he knew some drama had unraveled behind him, so elected to set his charge alight.
“I did hear a bit of a skirmish, so I knew something must have happened,” he said. “I decided with that bit of a backlog I would push the button then and it ended up working quite well.”
Muscle Mountain has become a special horse to Hope in particular, having driven him in all but three of his 33 starts, and brought up his first elite-level driving victory behind the giant trotter on the Group 1 NZ Trotting Championship (2600m) last year.
His performance on Friday night has boosted Hope’s confidence as they head into the business end of spring racing, however, he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground knowing the quality of his opposition and the knowledge top northern trotter Bolt For Brilliance has yet to enter the fray.
“I know a few of those other horses will keep improving and while Sundees Son did gallop, he went phenomenal afterwards (to run fifth). We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” he said.
“We are obviously happy where our fella is at, but we are aware of how good the other horses can be.”