Rivals may catch a break
By Michael Guerin
Belle Of Montana and Tickle Me Pink’s rivals may have finally caught a break.
Because two of the great stories of the harness racing season may have ended simply because the two fillies are so good.
The northern pair won their finals at the Harness Jewels on a rain-soaked Addington on Saturday to cap their amazing seasons.
Belle Of Montana started the term as a maiden and may have finished it a four-time group one winner in two countries, her passing lane sprint to nail Princess Tiffany also guaranteeing her the Filly of the Year title.
It came courtesy of a Zac Butcher drive equal parts brave and brilliant and with the highly-valuable filly being owned in Australia it must be very tempting to head there for races like the Queensland Oaks and Breeders Crown.
But champion trainer Barry Purdon is leaning toward sending Belle Of Montana to the spelling paddock instead.
“I think she could be a really good open class mare in the future so I’d be just as happy to give her a break,” said Purdon.
“Her owner, Dean Shannon, is great to train for and never puts any pressure on so we will decide in the next few days.
“But if she has a good break now she has plenty of options in the good mares races next season.” Tickle Me Pink’s comeback story is one of the best of the racing season after she got deadly sick during a Victorian campaign last winter, only to come back nine months later and win four major races in six weeks.
She would be a red hot favourite for the fillies division of the Breeders Crown in August and a huge chance in the Victoria Derby but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is keen to think longer term.
“She has achieved a lot in a very short time since she has come back, far more than we could have dreamed,” said Herlihy.
“But I think she can get even better. She is still quite leggy and a bit frail physically so she has some strengthening to do.
“So I’d be keen to miss Australia and give her a good break because in time she could be a really good open class mare.”
Herlihy was one of the stars of Jewels day, having caused a huge upset winning the two-year-old trot with Bolt For Brilliance, the pair giving him his first group one training double in a day.
Add in the third of Dina Brown behind Belle Of Montana and Herlihy rivalled the All Stars for trainer of the day honours, with the fact they trained five group one winners almost feeling normal these days.
While Belle Of Montana’s slushy slingshot job was hard to beat the equine performance of the day had to be Sundees Son, who smashed some open class rivals in the four-year-old trot.
He is about as unimposing as a top horse can be but inside his modest frame lies a huge motor and he now looks certain to win trotter of the year. Even more remarkably for a horse who used to gallop punters to the poor house, he has to be favourite for the Dominion and Inter Dominion.
One Change, Turn It Up, Sweet On Me, Elle Mac and Jesse Duke were all simply too good after racing on the speed, which ended up being crucial on a day where no winner came from further back than fourth with a lap to go.
But that wasn’t the track’s fault. As after torrential rain right up to the first race, the track raced incredibly well, justifying track manager John Denton’s decision to resurface it just a week earlier.