BLAST FROM THE PAST
2002 DOMINION TROTTING HANDICAP - Dead-hear between Take A Moment & Martina H
2002 WILSON'S TAB & SPORTS BAR DOMINION TROTTING HANDICAP
Two perfect preparations. Two super racenight performances. In the end, two fairytale endings emerged from last Friday night's $100,000 Wilson's TAB & Sports Bar Dominion Handicap.
For the second time in the Group 1 events 91-year history, two great trotters crossed the finish line locked together, inseparable. Hot favourite Take A Moment and up-and-coming star Martina H shared this year's honours, mirroring the result of 1944's Dominion when Lady Scot and Will Cary deadheated.
Both Take A Moment and Martina H charged into the race with purpose rounding the final bend; the former sat back after starting off a 10 metre handicap and made one run at them, the latter followed him around the last corner having been handier earlier in the race before getting shuffled back. Martina H's co-trainer/ driver Derek Balle didn't have much hope of anything better than second at this stage. "But then she really started to flatten out half-way down the straight," he said, proud as punch with what his Sundon mare had achieved. "This time next year we might run past him."
Events like the Dominion and next March's Inter-Dominions had been more or less earmarked for Martina H for quite some time, all she had to do was prove she was ready. Balle says the mare's ability to pass her first open class assignment with flying colours was due mainly to the time she spent "learning the ropes" amongst the middle-graders in Auckland. Now five, Martina H proved she was ready alright. And the most exciting part is that Balle and training partner Steve Clarke both believe the best is yet to come from her. "She's still six months away from that," Clarke said.
Training the winner of a Dominion Handicap at Addington is a far cry from being Store Manager at a McDonalds restaurant in Auckland, but that is exactly where Clarke has come from. And you could not drag him back there now. "McDonalds was good, but it was getting monotonous; I'd been there since before I left school," he recalled. Clarke got to know Balle when he had a horse in his stable six years ago. Stylish Soky was "a rabbit" that never turned out any good, but nevertheless the pacer sparked Clarke's interest enough that he soon left his McDonalds outlet to start working for Balle. A couple of years later Clarke went to America for four seasons, getting jobs with the likes of New Jersey trainers Ross Croghan and Mark Harder for a couple of years apiece. He says it was invaluable experience, and taught him a lot. "Sure, they only have mile racing, but over there they are really big on keeping their horses on the fresh side. Derek never worked his horses too hard anyway, but I know we do not work them as hard as we used to." Clarke liked America so much that not so long ago he was even thinking about moving back there for another stint. He's pretty glad he didn't. "Yep, you can't beat that," the 25-year-old said, referring to winning such a big event in his first year as a trainer.
Gracious in sharing Dominion Handicap glory was Take A Moment's trainer Tim Butt, who had nothing but praise for both horses after the event. "That was a great run from the mare," he said. Deadheating is just the same as winning - it doesn't take any gloss off it, put it that way. I actually had a look at the photo finish print. The judge, Ernie Fuchs, says that on a bright sunny day they can get it down to one/two-thousandth of a second; tonight they got it down to one/thirteen-hundredth - and the horses were still even at that."
Overlooked in the drama that surrounded the deadheat was the fact that Butt has now trained the winners of the last four Dominion Handicaps - Lyell Creek twice and Take A Moment twice - which is a sensational feat.
Because of his lead-up form, Take A Moment was sent out the shortest-priced favourite in the event's history. Butt never expected his trotter to dominate like he had earlier in the carnival though. "It's always a bit harder when you start off a ten-metre handicap, or fifteen metres like he did in last year's Rowe Cup, because once you settle you are forty metres from the leader. And he was working the whole race, so it was a pretty good effort under the circumstances. Take A Moment's win on Show Day was undoubtedly the best run of his career. But that is his pet distance, and the mobile suits him because they go harder early. In the Dominion, the leaders ran their first mile in 2:09, and when they only do that it brings the whole field into it."
Take A Moment is now in Auckland, awaiting a flight across the Tasman to contest the Bill Collins Mile, Grand Prix (formerly called the Dullard Cup) and National Trot.
Martina H's connections are still tossing up between the Auckland carnival and Melbourne, but if not before the two great trotters will meet again in next year's Inter-Dominions in Christchurch.
Credit: John Robinson writing in the NZHR Weekly