Third in a five-horse trial hardly sounds like a comeback to delight in but that is exactly how trainer Anthony Butt feels about the return of Stunin Cullen.
The Hunter Cup winner made his first appearance in 16 months at Ashburton on Tuesday, the start of a campaign aimed at the New Zealand Cup.
While he only strolled into third behind Rangataua Ray in a sedate 3:09.4 for the 2400m standing start, Butt liked what he felt.
"That was exactly what he needed and I got him to pace his last 400m in 25.7 seconds," said Butt.
"I know they can go that at Ashburton but he felt good and it was a nice starting point."
Stunin Cullen hasn't raced since finishing seventh in the Auckland Cup last year, missing the Interdominions at Alexandra Park after he fell sick.
He was then coming back up well this time last season when he suffered a hairline fracture in a knee, robbing him of the whole of last season.
"It was a real shame because he was coming up so well but I'd rather a fracture like that than a tendon or ligament which keeps coming back," said Butt.
"He feels good in himself and his work at home has been great. He definitely hasn't lost any of his speed."
Butt will trial Stunin Cullen twice more before he hopefully resumes at Addington on August 24.
"There is a race there that should suit him, with a maximum back mark of 20m and it is two weeks before the Maurice Holmes Vase [also at Addington].
"Then somewhere along the line I'd like to give him a week off but the first aim is of course the New Zealand Cup."
The stable's multiple group one winning trotter Vulcan, the star of New Zealand Cup week last year, is about three weeks away from trialling, as is open-class pacer Mah Sish.
A new recruit to the stable is classy 3-year-old filly Just Gorgeous.
The winner of three of her four starts last season when trained by Hamish Hunter, Just Gorgeous has been purchased by Butt stable clients.
"She is a lovely filly and will be aimed at the good fillies' races."By Michael Guerin Email Michael