Tonight Australasia’s fastest ever trotter Maori Time leaves Australia on her quest to win world trotting’s sprinting Holy Grail, Sweden’s Elitloppet.
Let no-one be under any illusion of the challenge that Maori Time is confronted with, for qualification alone for the final in the same day heats/final affair would be a magnificent achievement.
Maori Time, who is trained by Australian-based New Zealander Brent Lilley and will be driven by Todd McCarthy, is fresh off a stunning trial at Maryborough last Sunday when she was beaten a head in 1:55.9 by the pacer The Sparrow Hawk.
Only six trotters from Australia and New Zealand have ever been invited to the Elitloppet – Petite Evander (NZ bred), Pride of Petite (NZ trained), Special Force (NZ bred & trained), Lyell Creek (NZ bred & trained), A Touch of Flair (Australian bred) and Sundons Gift (NZ bred & Australian trained) – with the American-bred pocket rocket Pride of Petite, trained and driven by Mark Purdon, being the only one to qualify for the final. She finished fourth in her heat and sixth in the final.
The quest for the Elitloppet by horses from the Southern Hemisphere commenced with Petite Evander way back in 1977 and the complete rundown of our challenges follows:
PETITE EVANDER (NZ) – Trained by Eddie Dunnigan (USA)
1977: Seventh in heat
1978: Sixth in heat – WON Consolation (no longer run)
PRIDE OF PETITE (US) – Trained by Mark Purdon (NZ born & based)
1996: Fourth in heat – Sixth in Final
SPECIAL FORCE (NZ) – Trained by David McGowan (NZ born and based)
1999 – Seventh in heat
LYELL CREEK (NZ) – Trained by Tim Butt (NZ born and based)
2001 – Fifth in heat
A TOUCH OF FLAIR (AUS) – Trained by Noel Daley (USA based, Australia born)
2007 – Eighth in heat
SUNDONS GIFT (NZ) – Trained by Chris Lang (Australian born & based)
2009 – Sixth in heat
Another champion trotter with NZ roots that raced in the Elitloppet was Grades Singing (granddaughter of NZ FFA winner Le Chant) who won a heat of the 1987 Elitloppet and ran third in the final to Napoletano.
Australia’s champion trotter Knight Pistol was never invited to the Elitloppet but stunned the Europeans in winning a European Grand Circuit event by defeating Norwegian champion Gentle Star in the Harley Davidson Trot at Stavanger, Norway in 1997.
Breeder and owner Fred Crews is looking forward to “one of the most exciting weeks of our lives” and was even cheeky enough to suggest that “we are already planning our next trip with Maori Law (Maori Time’s half brother)”.
Maori Time’s career will conclude this year, however, when and where is up in the air, according to Fred. He said, “No decision has been made beyond her run in the heat. There are a couple of races two weeks later that may suit her, but that decision will be made on Monday May 28. Who knows, if she wins the whole thing I might leave her there to defend her title.”
Fred went on to say, “The Inter Dominion is not a real possibility as I believe the final will be over 2760m. If she does race again in Australia the Bill Collins Trotters Sprint could be her last run. In the meantime I have to study up on all the available stallions.”
The Elitloppet consists of two eight-horse heats with the first four progressing to the final and thus far eight horses have been invited – Maori Time (Australia) 1:51.5, Europe’s first 1:50.0 trotter Bold Eagle (France), 2017 Swedish Horse of the Year Readly Express (Sweden) 1:52.5, Uza Josselyn (France) 1:53.6, 2017 Elitloppet runner-up Propulsion (US bred-Sweden trained) 1:49.6, 2018 Olympiatravet winner Ringostarr Treb (Italy) 1:49.8 (placed), 2018 Lotteria winner Urlo dei Venti (Italy) 1:53.6 and 2018 Finlandia AJO winner Pastore Bob (Sweden) 1:53.8.
What a time awaits Fred, Brent, Todd and Maori Time with Australian fans being glued to their televisions, tablets and mobile phones late on Sunday May 27 to cheer on their challenge for the Holy Grail.