Racing: Punters back Christen Me in NZ Trotting Cup

By Michael Guerin

Christen Me is the punters' choice to win the New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington today.Picture / Race Images
Christen Me is the punters' choice to win the New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington today.Picture / Race Images

There are two favourites for today's $650,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup: the public one and the horsemen's elect.

While Christen Me will start favourite on the tote in the Addington classic, almost every leading horseman spoken to by the Herald has opted for Terror To Love as the horse to beat.

That may come as a surprise after Christen Me has beaten Terror To Love in their only two real race clashes this season - he galloped, rendering the Flying Stakes largely irrelevant - and thrashed him in last Wednesday's Cup trial.

Harness horsemen are notorious for not wanting to take sides in such debates, with many keen to initially sit on the fence this week rather than risk upsetting either the Christen Me or Terror To Love camps.

But dig a bit, or a lot, deeper and every leading trainer in the country, not to mention all seven media experts on harness racing show The Box Seat, have opted for Terror To Love.

The most public reasons given are the fact he has been there, done that in two previous Cups, as well as Christen Me's Flying Stakes gallop raising questions over his ability to handle harness racing's biggest occasion.

And there is something else, something rival trainers believe but won't dare discuss in public.

Some think Christen Me has either mental or physical frailties, which is why he sometimes appears to be nodding in his races, or uncomfortable at full speed on the bends.

He definitely doesn't have the smooth gait of his sire Christian Cullen, who won the Cup in 1998, but trainer Cran Dalgety is adamant Christen Me is feeling no pain and at his peak.

But harness people being diehard traditionalists, it is easy to see why they opt for the Rolls Royce safety of Terror To Love over the equine Ferrari who is Christen Me.

There is little between the pair, with Terror To Love a striking sit-sprinter while Christen Me probably has more x-factor and is better suited to taking control of a race as he is lethal when allowed to find his rhythm.

The reality is today's race might be won inside the first 200m.

The domination of Christen Me and Terror To Love is so pronounced it is hard to envisage any of their rivals not wanting to trail one of the champs today.

Of the potential spanners in the works Mah Sish isn't racing well enough, Caribbean Blaster and Suave Stuey Lombo start off the second line and Fly Like An Eagle's driver Mark Purdon has already indicated he would be happy to take a trail.

Which means, barring something going bizarrely wrong at the start, either Christen Me or Terror To Love will be in front at the halfway stage.

And which ever one is, providing he hasn't done too much work to get there, should win.

In their four clashes so far the leader has won because their last 800m sectionals have ranged from 55.7 seconds to 54 seconds flat, usually with the final 400m below 26.5 seconds.

Both horses can pace those sectionals against the marker pegs but neither should be able to do so coming wide or sitting parked.

While Terror To Love supporters will rightly point out he can lead or swoop and be equally potent, the problem will be swooping past Christen Me if he has a decent tank of gas left at the 800m mark.

As for the younger speedster handling the 3200m? He relaxes beautifully in his races and this doesn't appear to be a Cup with a great deal of pressure so could be just as much a test of speed.

So who wins that start, the race to the first bend and maybe therefore the Cup?

Lost in the Flying Stakes debacle was the fact Terror To Love has habitually been slower away this season than Christen Me, with a habit of bobbling and taking a step sideways when the tapes are released.

Christen Me, his one gallop aside, has tended to drop his hind quarters and fly the tapes. Whether he can do so surrounded by the hype is crucial but he does have the advantage of the Cup starting in the back straight and he will have his ears plugged.

So Christen Me is the horse to beat. And if Terror To Love can do that, he deserves to be only the third ever three-time New Zealand Cup winner

Group one picks
NZ Cup: Christen Me.
Sires Stakes: Tiger Tara.
NZ Trot FFA: Peak.

Harness racing's biggest day
What: New Zealand Trotting Cup Day.
Where: Addington, Christchurch.
When: First race 11.50am.
What: 110th New Zealand Trotting Cup for $650,000, $180,000 Sires' Stakes Final, $80,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All and $35,000 Junior Free-For-All.
Who: 13 of New Zealand best pacers meet two of Australia's in the Cup.
The favourite: Christen Me.
History beckons: Terror To Love striving to become only the third horse to win three NZ Cups.
The Punt: 12 races, all with fixed odds, $100,000 Pick Six 7-12, Drivers Challenge, Cup market with two favourites out.
Plunge horses with TAB bookies: Sundown In Paris (R3), Arden Rooney (R5), Alleluia (R7), Harry Johnson (R11).

- NZ Herald

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