Muscle Mountain stamps his mark ahead of Dominion
By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk
There was a collective sigh of relief from trainers Greg and Nina Hope as Muscle Mountain stepped away well in the Group 3 Majestic Son South Bay Trotters Cup (2600m) at Addington Raceway on Monday.
The talented trotter took no part in the Group 3 Canterbury Park Cup (2600m) after he failed to go away at the Christchurch track last month when first-up, putting apprehension into both his trainers and punters alike ahead of his key spring targets.
Back to his more favoured mobile start in the Group 3 Ashburton Trotters Flying Sprint (1700m) last start, Muscle Mountain was able to display is full capability when taking out the feature in a sizzling mile rate of 1:53.2.
“He is just thriving and is doing so well,” Nina Hope said. “He has really developed mentally and physically, we are really happy with him.”
But back to the stand on Monday, Hope admitted to being a bit nervous, particularly when an attendant was required to get the four-year-old into position.
“That was our biggest concern (standing start) after last time (at Addington). But he just froze last time, he didn’t go away in a gallop,” Hope said.
“We were fairly confident he would begin and Ben (Hope, driver) was ready for it this time.”
“It was a small field, so it probably had more of a trial feel for him. There wasn’t a lot of horses around him, so that was a good stand to be in.”
Muscle Mountain duly trotted away from his front mark and was able to take an early sit outside Mataderos. Driver Ben Hope was intent on wrestling the lead off his foe and was successful, albeit burning a bit of petrol to get there.
Hope was then able to dictate terms and Muscle Mountain saw off the late challenge of Mataderos to win by three-quarters of a length, with a further half length back to race favourite Sundees Son in third.
“He stepped great, which was awesome, hopefully we have passed that standing start blip,” Ben Hope said. “He is going to be a brilliant chance next week (in the Dominion) hopefully.”
Hope said he wasn’t frightened of asking his charge to burn early for the lead, believing he had the class to handle it.
“A horse of his ability can do that (bit of work),” he said. “I just wanted to get him balanced before I had a go for the lead. I knew as soon as I got around that first bend that I wanted to be in front.
“He felt super. I was able to get a couple of nice quarters there once I got to the front. The grand final is next week so he didn’t need a gut buster.”
Adding to the occasion was the training partnership’s first win in the race, and Hope was duly thrilled for his parents.
“I have been lucky enough to pick up some nice races in the past, but Mum and Dad had already won them before,” he said. “But we were lucky enough today to pick up this race for the first time. I am rapt for them.”
Immediately following the win, TAB bookmakers shortened Muscle Mountain into $2.25 favouritism for next Friday’s Gr.1 Renwick Farms Dominion Trot (3200m).
His trainers share the TAB’s confidence following Muscle Mountain’s performance and standing start manners on Monday.
“The way he begun, he even beat Midnight Dash out, does give us confidence ahead of next week,” Nina Hope said.
“He didn’t even blow afterwards. He has pulled up well and is so bright.”
While the Dominion remains the main aim, the Hope’s haven’t ruled out a tilt at the Group 1 Livamol NZ Trotting Free-For-All (1980m) at Addington next Tuesday.
“We haven’t decided yet whether we will go to Cup Day yet, he will tell us. We will just see how he is over the next few days and how he recovers,” Hope said.
Meanwhile, Hope said the race wasn’t run to suit stablemate Midnight Dash who finished fifth.
“They went slow that first quarter of the last half and then sprinted home. That didn’t suit him,” Hope said.
“He has pulled up really bright and Ricky (May, driver) said he was really on the job today, so we are really happy with him.
“He will love the Dominion because the more distance and the harder the go, the more it suits him.