Racing: Dual NZ Cup winner has run last race

By Michael Guerin

Monkey King, driven by Ricky May, wins the New Zealand Trotting Cup. Photo / Simon Baker
Monkey King, driven by Ricky May, wins the New Zealand Trotting Cup. Photo / Simon Baker

Sometimes the timing just isn't fair.

If it was, Monkey King would have been retired in a blaze of glory 17 months ago, the undisputed hero of New Zealand harness racing, and his departure from the Australasian stage would have saddened racing fans.

Instead, New Zealand's richest standardbred eased into retirement last night, his connections finally conceding defeat in his battles with soreness that have lasted over a year.

It has been a long time since anybody considered Monkey King the star of the show because while his motor was still huge and his heart even bigger, his legs and body have been past their use-by date almost since he won his second New Zealand Cup in November 2010.

A string of failures since against horses who were often not worthy of even breathing the same air may have dulled Monkey King's lustre, but you don't have to dig far to realise he deserves his place among our greats.

Never the biggest or the prettiest, the horse nicknamed Sam was often the fastest and the bravest.

A Derby winner at the age of 3, he won the Messenger and Harness Jewels at 4.

These days such age group stars rarely go on to reproduce heroics deep into their careers but the care of trainers Steven Reid and then Brendon Hill meant Monkey King got an extended shot at greatness.

He took it.

Placings in the Auckland and New Zealand Cups at five and six later became wins in both races, with both his New Zealand Cup victories coming over Aussie legend Smoken Up.

His first New Zealand Cup success started a season of nearly unmatched superiority.

After the Cup he won the New Zealand Free-For-All and then paced 1:50.8 winning the Miracle Mile before all but clean-sweeping the Sydney Interdominions, where it took the greatest Interdom hero of them all in Blacks A Fake to beat him in the final.

He returned to Auckland just five days later to win the Auckland Cup.

They were just some of 39 wins from 95 starts worth $3,487,401 in stakes, the richest amount ever won by a New Zealand-bred harness horse.

He developed from a one-sprint sensation as a young horse to a world-class stayer and fans loved him because he was a physical underdog, small but tenacious.

Of course, those fans didn't know what trainer Hill did.

"He is actually a bit of a prick," said Hill. "He is a grumpy old bugger and would have a bite or a kick at you if you give him the chance.

"But that is just him. His attitude. He knows how good he is."

Which was very, very good.

Tomorrow night's NZ Trotting Derby has been robbed of its glamour clash.

Northern colt You Rock has been forced out of the race after mistakenly being treated with a substance inside the prohibited withholding times.

That has forced trainer Ray Green to scratch him from the group one in which he was set to clash with southern sensation Escapee.

You Rock opened the $3 second favourite yesterday but Escapee could now start $1.50.

Two of New Zealand's best horses will be looking for a new driver for coming weeks after trainer Jim Curtin suffered a broken ankle in a training accident yesterday.

That means Curtin will miss the drive on his stable star Franco Emirate at Addington tomorrow night, while he has also been the regular driver of top trotter Dr Hook.

The injury hasn't curbed one punter's enthusiasm for Franco Emirate, who will clash with Sir Lincoln, tomorrow night though, with the TAB taking a $5000 fixed odds bet on him last night.

MONKEY KING

Breeding: Sands A Flyin-Tuapeka Vale.
Trainers: Steven Reid (Oct 2005-Feb 2009), then Brendon Hill.
Drivers: Ricky May, Steven Reid, and Todd Mitchell; Peter Ferguson and Tom Cowan (one drive each).
Owner: Cavalla Bloodstock.
Record: 95 starts, 39 wins, 23 placings, $3,487,401 in stakes.
Career highlights: NZ Cup (twice); Auckland Cup; Miracle Mile; NZ Free-For-All (twice); Easter Cup; NZ Messenger, Harness Jewels (4yo); Woodlands Derby; Flying Stakes; Pelorus Classic; Hannon Memorial.

- NZ Herald

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