Return not far away for Muscle Mountain

By Michael Guerin

The star of Hope Racing may not be at Addington tonight but the family stable still have hands to play in both main races.

And the great news for trotting fans is the big guy, Muscle Mountain, is due back at the races in a few weeks.

Muscle Mountain looked a certainty to be our Trotter of the Year at different stages in 2023 but a heart fibrillation in the Dominion followed by a cold that kept him out of the NZ Trotting Free-For-All saw Oscar Bonavena win both those races and quite rightly the trotting title at the Horse of the Year awards on Monday.

Muscle Mountain may have had a rocky (excuse the pun) ending to last season but driver Ben Hope says he is coming up great.

“We are really happy with him and his first start back will be in second half of March (March 22) so we will be at the trials about a week before that.”

One of the stable’s somewhat forgotten open class stars and one who chased Muscle Mountain around for two seasons, Midnight Dash, returns in the main trot tonight.

He hasn’t raced since ending an underwhelming spring campaign with a seventh behind Love N The Port on New Zealand Cup day and Hope says he is likely to need the run tonight.

“As a lot of people will know he had a bleed about a year ago and we have really worked on that since but he didn’t get back to his best in the spring.

“He is off a tough mark tonight (30m) and I think he will need a couple of races and it looks Smokin Bandar’s race to lose.”

The latter has been second to Oscar Bonavena his last two starts and while he shares that 30m backmark two scratchings have reduced the field to six starters so Smokin Bandar looks well placed.

The Hopes (trainers and parents Greg and Nina and driver Ben) have two reps in the main pace in Celtic Spirit and Mossdale Ben.

“Celtic Spirit is under-rated. I just don’t think the 2600m standing start is his best type of race but he is worth sticking with.”

Mossdale Ben was surprisingly beaten twice at Blenheim last month but was better when fourth behind Ohoka Connor at Addington last week.

“He almost felt like he was going through the motions a bit for a few weeks there but was better last week.

“But it is a tough field off a 10m handicap. But I think he will go well and some good form is just around the corner,” say Ben.

The $20,000 pace is a real puzzle for punters as they try to rate form from grass tracks to Addington wins, a four-year-old mare like Kahlua Flybye coming out of a Group 1 to a 10-year-old veteran like Mikey Maguire having his first start in 10 months.

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