High stakes at Alex Park

By Michael Guerin

Monbet clashes with arch rival and Trotter of the Year honours are on the line
Ricky May drives Monbet to victory at Alexandra Park on New Year's Eve. Picture / Dean Purcell
Ricky May drives Monbet to victory at Alexandra Park on New Year's Eve. Picture / Dean Purcell

Trotting's excitement machine Monbet has the inside track to seal Trotter of the Year honours at Alexandra Park this Friday.

And trainer Greg Hope says he still hasn't given up on the overall Horse of the Year title.

Monbet returns to Alexandra Park, where he is unbeaten this season, for another clash with arch rival Speeding Spur in the $100,000 Anzac Cup over the 2200m mobile.

The exceptional pair of four-year-olds clash this Friday and again seven days later in the Rowe Cup and Hope is confident victory in either group one would seal the Trotter of the Year title for his gelding.

"I think if we can win this week or the Rowe Cup then we probably beat Speeding Spur [for the title]," says Hope. "But if Speeding Spur wins them both then he might sneak the title. So it is not just money up for grabs."

Monbet has drawn the ace on Friday with Speeding Spur right alongside him, which means the southerner will start favourite in a mouth-watering clash.

While Speeding Spur dominated Monbet last season, the latter has been an enormous improver this season, winning a string of group ones.

They have met twice this term, Monbet beating Speeding Spur when the latter was fresh up in the National Trot in December, but Speeding Spur was a brave second to Keystone Del after Monbet galloped out to last in the Grand Prix at Melton in February.

Since then Speeding Spur has produced a remarkable performance to win the Great Southern Star at Melton, staying in contention for the Trotter of the Year title.

"If we can win both these races, and that won't be easy because there is so little between them, then maybe we can even challenge Have Faith In Me for Horse of the Year," says Hope.

One dent in that aspiration could be Hope's potential plan to miss the Jewels at Cambridge on June 4.

"I haven't decided one way or the other but if we won both these races then maybe he has done enough for the season and we could miss the Jewels to give him a longer spell.

"But we won't decide that until after the next two races."

The clash of the two trotting heroes highlights a stunning night at Alexandra Park, with unusually big fields for a premier meeting.

Former Auckland pacer My Kiwi Mate returns from Australia for the $100,000 Taylor Mile, up against the in-form pair of Hug The Wind and Field Marshal in a race shorn of Have Faith And Me and Hughie Green, their absence ultimately helping attract a bigger field.

The three-year-old trot brings together Marcoola, Conin Bridge and High Gait while the $120,000 two-year-old fillies pace has been thrown open by the two favourites drawing the second line.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of stars on show at the Addington trials yesterday and the biggest name of them all, Christen Me, pleased trainer Cran Dalgety enough to be aimed at a comeback at Rangiora on Sunday.

Christen Me, the $2.3 million earner, hasn't raced since contracting a mystery virus in the spring but won his 1950m mobile trial yesterday, beating among others his half-sister, champion filly Dream About Me.

"He went good enough to race so we will head to Rangiora on Sunday and see what happens," said Dalgety.

Waiting for him there will be Easter Cup winner Locharburn, who also won at the trials yesterday but will need a new driver on Sunday as regular reinsman Dexter Dunn sticks with Christen Me.

- NZ Herald

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