By Garrick Knight
An Oamaru twilight meeting presents as an unusual but interesting offering for punters on Thursday.
Ben Hope will head down from Woodend Beach in North Canterbury to drive five of the team prepared by his parents, Greg and Nina.
Among them is Baxter, a resuming four-year-old trotter that was deemed good enough by the Hopes to contest the Hambletonian Classic at just his second start last season.
What’s more, the half-brother to former champion trotter Monbet ran third behind Lotamuscle in the Group 3 feature.
He only had one further start before being turfed out and this week represents his first run since March.
The junior Hope piloted the son of Muscle Hill in heavy weather at the Rangiora workouts last week and says he was happy enough with his third placing.
But this week, in a junior drivers’ event, where a penalty-free win is in the offing, he isn’t exactly preparing his acceptance speech.
“He’s a nice enough horse without being a star.
“I was happy with his trial and, while he got a bit tired towards the end, he was entitled to first up on a heavy track.
“He’s obviously going to be an each-way chance, but is no certainty.
“To be fair, too, I think he would prefer a shorter distance than the 2600 metres.”
Hope points to another relative of Monbet as probably his best chance on the day.
Her name is Crazy N Love and she debuts in the first on the card, a maiden trotter.
She’s been given plenty of time to learn the ropes at recent workouts and trials and has shown her trainers plenty.
“I really rate her,” said Hope.
“She is a lovely filly and is going to do a bloody good job in time. Whether that is this week or in a couple of years’ time, I’m not sure.
“She’s not fool-proof and mentally is just not quite there yet.
“I was really happy with her first trial this time, but in the second one she knuckled over on the bend.
“It does look a pretty weak field and if she trots the whole way, she should go pretty close.”
Rockntommy Rulz doesn’t have an overly inspiring record – just one placing in nine starts – but his two runs for fifth this time in have been better than they looked.
He’s drawn well in gate three in a handy field of maiden pacers over the short course mile-and-a-quarter trip and Hope reckons he could surprise.
“He can take advantage of that draw.
“He’s actually improved a lot since last season and those first two runs have been ok, I thought.
“Last season he kept going out as a favourite but I felt he was too physically weak to be very competitive, but he’s definitely grown up now.”
Panda Girl is a daughter of former stable star Helena Jet, but doesn’t seem to have inherited much of her mother’s ability.
“She’s really not showing a lot, but if she was ever going to win one, this is it.
“I would have liked to have drawn the front line with her because she’s usually quite a good beginner.
“It doesn’t seem an overly strong field and with an economical run I expect her to be at least a place chance.”
Rounding out Hope’s book is stable newcomer Melody Pond, who showed glimpses of ability for former trainer Robert Anderson on the grass last season and has seemingly turned the corner in recent weeks.
“The first few weeks we had her, she was pretty average, but has definitely improved.
“Dad’s been doing most of the driving with her and he reckons she’s come on lately.
“We’ll know more after the race but if she can settle handy from that good draw, she’s got to be a reasonably good chance.”
Bookies have shown respect to Crazy N Love, opening her a $2.90 favourite while Melody Pond ($7.50), Rockntommy Rulz ($17), Panda Girl ($5.50) and Baxter ($4.20) all present varying degrees of each-way appeal.