Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Trotters 2001/2002 Season
Leg 3:  Bill Collins Trotters Mile 2001/2002Results   Points
             8/12/2001  Moonee Valley, Melbourne, Vic  1609m  Mobile Start  $50,000
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Melbourne-based writer Paul Courts in early December reminded readers of Harness Racing Weekly how it had been a long time since Australians have had the chance to say with any confidence: “Bring on the Kiwi trotters.”

Our Aussie pacers may have had the edge over New Zealand’s best in recent seasons, but those pesky Kiwi trotters in this period had dominated the feature events on the Grand Circuit. Among them were dual-Inter Dominion winner Pride Of Petite USA, then Buster Hanover NZ, before Lyell Creek NZ swept all before him.

Our trotting writers in November first began singing the praises of the former smart but moody juvenile Alabamas Idol after it had won four successive races, suggesting it might have turned over a new leaf. In one of these victories it was driven by Gavin Lang at the Kilmore Cup meeting. Harness Racing Weekly’s report of the win stated: ‘Superlatives are often thrown around to describe the talent of Gavin Lang in a sulky. His drive behind Alabamas Idol left onlookers in awe. It was one of the finest displays of reinsmanship you could ever wish to see.” 

Then there was Stirling Kiwi NZ, another with loads of ability though unreliable under pressure. Resuming from a spell at the end of September, Harness Racing Weekly described the horse as: “Australia’s most exciting trotter.” Starting off a backmark of 50 metres at Ballarat, it brought up its 17th success from 35 starts.

Stewards after the race suspended trainer-driver Robert Hamilton for three weeks. When taken to Moonee Valley a week or so later with Graeme Lang in the sulky, it started a $1.40 favourite and was unplaced.

This in no way dampened the confidence of trainer Hamilton who began seeking a flight to take the horse to New Zealand for the Grand Circuit races there. Later, after this trip had been cancelled, Hamilton brashly told the media he should have taken the horse to New Zealand for the Dominion Handicap. “I think he could have won it with his legs tied together.”


La Coocaracha

Leading up to the Bill Collins Mile and with its best form of the previous season still proving elusive, Hamilton confidently stated: “He will blitz them this week, and again the following week.” Despite the trainer going overboard in his confidence in Stirling Kiwi NZ, most trotting writers believed Australia’s main hopes would largely be carried by another exciting trotting machine -- the pacing-bred mare La Coocaracha.

After resuming from a minor injury at Stawell on October 21 against the pacers, the mare did not trot smoothly as she usually had in the past, throwing a major scare into trainer Andy Gath and wife and driver Kerryn Gath. “I have never been so stressed about a horse’s next start,” said the trainer. It came at Moonee Valley, and La Coocaracha quickly showed her trainer she had put behind her whatever had been concerning the mare. Trotting stylishly from her handicap of 30 metres, she went around the field early to then race in the ‘death’ before trotting home her last 800 metres in 59.3, slashing 1.6 seconds from the track record she had set on July 21.

Her record then was 14 wins from 24 starts. Perhaps it was not the stats one would  expect of a mare that really did seem to be special.  Still, her record to then was excellent, though it might not have fitted the mould of Scotch Notch at the same age. It was the manner in which she was improving with each outing that now had some believing in ability she was already worthy of being compared with Graeme Lang’s more recently retired trotting stallion Wagon Apollo.  Such was her growing reputation that some who had climbed aboard her bandwagon did not believe the Bill Collins Trotters’ Mile at Moonee Valley on December 8 was HER acid test. Her fan club looked upon the race more of a case of seeing if the New Zealanders Take A Moment NZ and Waihemo Hanger NZ could run her down.

The mare drew handily in barrier five, with Take A Moment NZ coming up with the ‘visitor’s draw (No. 12). Waihemo Hanger NZ would start from the pole. It would be the best field Alabamas Idol had met since starting his winning sequence. From barrier six it would be interesting to see how he would cope with the pressure. With the experienced Max Wishart engaged to drive Stirling Kiwi NZ, it remained to be seen whether it trotted better than he had at its latest outing when a distant eighth at Moonee Valley to Waikare Gold.

The Moonee Valley record for the mile was held jointly by Lyell Creek NZ and Sundons Way NZ at 1:58. Talk that week of Take A Moment NZ having to break this record to beat the mare did not faze trainer Tim Butt or for that matter, Andy Gath. “The second start she had for me I put her over a mile at Geelong and she went 1:58.5, and I am sure La Coocaracha is racing better now and is capable of going quicker than Geelong. But I will not be telling Kerryn to go out chasing a record,” said Gath.

Waihemo Hanger NZ relished the mobile gait more than he did a standing start. Obviously a late maturing trotter who was now aged six, he had been one of the small debut crop of sire Straphanger USA. It was unlikely Mark Purdon would try and hold out La Coocaracha for the early lead knowing how the Andy Gath stable is never afraid to have their horses spend some gas early. Considering that Purdon was not keen to set his improving trotter too tough a task in the big league, it was generally considered that Kerryn Gath would make an early charge for the front.

If trotsgoers were expecting the Bill Collins Mile was set up to return a dizzy time on the clock, it was obvious a long way from home that no one was out to break records. La Coocaracha had little trouble crossing to the front after barrier release to set up a moderate speed with two of her main rivals – Take A Moment NZ and Alabamas Idol – galloping their way out of contention at the start. With no challengers, the mare trotted the first half of the mile in 61.8 seconds, before quickening up the tempo to come home her final 800 metres in 58.5 to beat Poets Corner untouched by 16 metres with Stirling Kiwi NZ third. The time was 2:00.3. Waihemo Hanger NZ had been placed to finish second until galloping in the home straight.

Trainer Gath had prior to the race told the press he did not know how good his mare was as she had yet to be tested. He reinforced this belief after the race when he said: “She did it easy tonight. With the main chances not pressuring her, it still hasn’t given us an indication of how good she can be.”


Australian Trotters Grand Circuit commenced 1999/2000 season.

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