Champion NZ trotter dominates in Australia

By Michael Guerin, in Melbourne

Monbet at the Australasian Trotting Champs. Photo / Stuart McCormick
Monbet at the Australasian Trotting Champs. Photo / Stuart McCormick

It takes something special to outshine an epic Victoria Cup run just 30 minutes earlier.

But champion New Zealand trotter Monbet produced just that at Melton on Saturday night.

On a night when New Zealand-trained horses continued their January of dominance in Australia, it was Monbet's freakish track-record win in the A$50,000 Australasian Trotting Champs that stole the show.

And it was some show.

Earlier in the night, Lazarus had overcome a brutal run to win the A$200,000 Victoria Derby like a seriously good horse, while Smolda went down to Lennytheshark by a half head in the A$400,000 Victoria Cup.

That race was won at the start when Lenny was driven aggressively by Chris Alford to reach the front and then timidly enough in the middle stages to have enough in the tank to hold off Smolda's passing-lane surge.

The victory sets Lennytheshark up for a pacing Triple Crown, with the Miracle Mile the last leg after he won the Inter Dominion in December.

Further north at Menangle, Have Faith In Me was magnificent with a sub 26-second last 400m to win the Paleface Adios, guaranteeing himself hot favouritism for the A$200,000 Chariots of Fire on February 13, while his stablemate Fight For Glory downed the boys earlier in the night.

But as good as the Kiwis were, with Ohoka Punter strolling to an effortless win at Melton as well, Monbet was breathtaking. Again.

He was chasing all the way off his 20m handicap in a capacity field and was three wide for half a lap before getting parked at the 800m, with leader Habibti making sure he was sprinting just to keep up.

As a mere four-year-old who has already had a busy summer, Monbet should been hurting but he was relentless, surging to the lead at the 400m as group one winners around him dropped away.

His gait never lost its shape down the home straight as he held out Claudys Princess and his 1:59.6 mile rate for the 2710m again suggests he has the potential to be an all-time great.

He gifted driver Ricky May a 58th birthday smile and the uber-conservative southerner is convinced we haven't seen Monbet's best yet.

"I actually think he is doing too well over here, he is a little bit fat," said May, pointing at the big boy in the stabling area.

"Tonight was the first time this season he has got a little tired the last 50m because he is thriving so much.

"So I think he can go better next week."

That is in Saturday's A$100,000 Australian Trotting Grand Prix, set to be Monbet's biggest test of the season so far as Australia's best trotter Keystone Del and Monbet's arch rival Speeding Spur will be additions to the field.

Balancing that out, though, is the fact the group one is a mobile, meaning Monbet will be 20m better off than he was on Saturday, a sobering thought for rival horsemen.

Victory on Saturday would increase his chance of returning to Melton next month for the Great Southern Star, the Southern Hemisphere's richest trot, which wasn't originally going to be on his radar.

"It is getting harder and harder to ignore," says co-trainer Greg Hope.

Also this Saturday will be the A$500,000 Hunter Cup, for which Smolda is favourite in Lennytheshark's absence, with Ohoka Punter and Mossdale Conner next in the market.

Then the big names of pacing head to Sydney, where the question in a few weeks will be whether Have Faith In Me is thrown into the Miracle Mile against Beautide and Lennytheshark.

- NZ Herald

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