Rowe Cup likely target for Muscle Mountain
By Michael Guerin
Now the balancing act really begins with Muscle Mountain.
The exciting four-year-old trotter returned in stunning style at Addington on Friday night, overcoming a tough run to win the Fahey Fence Hire Summer Trot in a 1:57 mile rate for the 1950m.
That is impressive enough but the fact Muscle Mountain hadn’t raced since his third in the NZ Free-For-All on Cup day confirmed he is the real deal and an open force in the trotting ranks.
It was a wonderful training performance by Greg, Nina and Ben Hope but now Greg says the real thinking starts.
“He is a lot like a thoroughbred in the fact he is naturally fit and doesn’t need a lot of work, which is one reason he could win like that fresh up,” says Hope.
“And it helps we have good horses to work him with at home. But to trot that fast a time so early in a campaign shows what a good horse he is.” Hopes says the fact Muscle Mountain is still very much growing up means he wants to race him sparingly so he will pick and choose his targets.
“He has the four and five-year-old championship in about six weeks and will probably need a race before then and then we have to work out whether we tackle the Rowe Cup.
“I’d like to but at this stage his races are better spaced so it would be a big ask to go both the Anzac Cup and Rowe Cup so the Rowe would be more likely.
“Then he could go to the Jewels, because they are a really big deal to us.” While it would be tempting to want to chase all the major trots Hope is adamant that wouldn’t be the best thing for Muscle Mountain and at least he has the sizeable deterrent of knowing Sundees Son is our undisputed trotting king and dodging him a few times may not be a bad thing.
And there is another reason the Hopes are adopting the patient approach with Muscle Mountain.
“He is a horse who has been really hard to get 100 per cent and maybe he has never been right at his peak.
“He has issues with back soreness and with his blood and Nina does so much of the work working on his soreness.”
Muscle Mountain’s brave win over Dark Horse was just one of the highlights of an epic harness racing night but the most dramatic race of the meeting was the $150,000 NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old fillies won by Off N Gone.
She smashed her opponents to win by four and a half lengths over With Grace, a stablemate in the Robert Dunn barn.
The winner was so dominant you couldn’t take anything away from her but the sensations started before the field even got to the dispatch point as favourite La Rosa refused to score up and lost all chance.
In a double blow for her trainer Mark Jones his other runner and second favourite Braeview Kelly then rolled into a gallop in an early speed duel trying to hold the lead, with the pair finishing tailed off.
While those two incidents were a blood nose for punters both horses would have needed to produce their best to beat Off N Gone as she rated 1:56.9 for the 1950m.
It was the fifth win in 11 starts for the daughter of Somebeachsomewhere and the former Dunn-trained good filly Kabet.