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Elitloppet 2018: Humphreys sets the Solvalla scene

Maori Time has settled in very well according to connections and is ready to give her best in round one of the Elitloppet.

Elitloppet 2018: Humphreys sets the Solvalla scene

Maori Time has settled in very well according to connections and is ready to give her best in round one of the Elitloppet.

Despite being the rank outsider of the series, Australian trotter Maori Time is definitely one of the most fascinating runners in Sunday’s Elitloppet series, whether you are a local or an Aussie.

By racing on Sunday she becomes the first trotter from the Southern Hemisphere to race in the Northern Hemisphere since the great Sundons Gift finished sixth of seven finishers in the second heat of this series nine years ago.


The series takes the same format as the first four renewals of the Great Southern Star, being two heats, at 11:22pm and 11:49pm AEST, and the Final two hours later.

Owner Fred Crews arrived in Sweden on Sunday, just after the barrier draw where she unfortunately drew gate six of eight. But there are apparently no excuses when it comes to the horse’s wellbeing and how she has settled in.

Fred spoke about how the whole thing came about.

“After the performance at Menangle, I started to look around for what the future held for her as far as racing, and the opportunities for her over sprint distances are pretty limited, all the $20,000 Free For All’s that she runs in she is going to draw the second row or out wide and there’s a very limited number of Group 1 races where she can use her speed to advantage,” he said.

“I for some reason came up with the idea of the Elitloppet and I spoke to Duncan McPherson and Michael Taranto and they put the wheels in motion. They and Andrew Kelly and HRA (Harness Racing Australia) sent the videos across to Sweden and put all the evidence before them to help them make the decision (about whether to send an invitation or not).

“Brent (Lilley, trainer) and I then went away and did all our homework as far as the logistics of the trip and when the invitation finally came we had all our plans in place and we we’re ready to act, because when the invitation comes they need to know pretty quickly what you intend to do, particularly when you’re on the other side of the world.”

Unfortunately just under a month ago the Maori Time camp suffered a scare when her first of two trials for her overseas campaign ended after 800m when she was pulled up in a trial at Bendigo on April 29. Thankfully she was able to recover quickly from the setback that could’ve been much worse. She then trialled at Maryborough seven days later and after leading was narrowly run down by The Sparrow Hawk, a stablemate, in fast time but obviously this was very promising after the setback she had seven days earlier.

“She suffered from atrial fibrillation where her heart went out of beat for 24 hours or so but that came good and everything has been 100 per cent since,” Crews said.

“She has arrived here in Sweden in incredibly good condition. Other people that have travelled with horses have been surprised with how well she has taken the trip. Brent is saying you’d think she was still home in the stable she’s so relaxed and going so well.

“That gives us a little bit of confidence because the first concern, naturally enough, is getting your horse here in a fit condition ready to race, we’ve got all that so that is not an excuse.”

She is staying at Stig H. Johansson’s stables, a man that by next year will have been training for 50 years and is considered one of the greats of local trotting. He has won the Gran Premio della Lotteria (Italy’s equivalent of the Elitloppet) four times a Prix d'Amérique, the premier race of the world, and of cause multiple Elitloppet Finals and has had Group 1 winners, either trained or driven, in nine countries

“Stig is the legend of Swedish trotting,” Crews said. “He has trained and driven six previous winners of the Elitloppet and he is probably like the elder statesman of trotting here in Sweden and he is very well respected.

“He drove Maori Time in fast work on Monday morning (Swedish time) and he said she was a very good horse, so hopefully he is correct.”

Most likely Maori Time will not return to Australia after Sunday and will instead have a European campaign, as long as she comes through this week well.

“If everything falls into place Brent Lilley and I will have a meeting next Monday with Stig with a view to leaving the horse here in Sweden to race,” Crews said.

“If something goes wrong then we’ll pack up and bring her straight home but if she performs well and he wants to train her, at this stage he has said he will train her but we want to wait until after the series.

“Two weeks later there is a big race in Norway (Oslo Grand Prix which is Norway’s annual highlight) and there is also another one in Sweden and they could be possibilities.”

The European Mares Championship at Solvalla on Tuesday August 14 over 2140m could also be a possible target.

“I wouldn’t want her racing beyond 2140m (Swedish middle distance) and we’ll make that point known to Stig.

“But a lot of things have got to fall into place first, I’m leaving all my options open and ideally that’s what I’d like to do but I can’t make a firm commitment.

“Our first target is to perform well in her heat and if she performs up to what we think she can then we’ve got two or two and a half hours to think about the final.

“We haven’t even though about the final yet.”

Bizarrely in Europe when analysing the form you have to take into huge consideration what shoes a horse will where. For example Lionel, a top trotter at his best who will compete in the first heat, usually performs at his best when he is unshod with all four feet, but if not he once started at odds of 100/1!

“There is a lot of interest about whether she is going to race with shoes, the last time the Great Southern Star was the two heats and the final, she raced without shoes in the final when Yannick Gingras (US driver who drove her) suggested we pull them off, so that’s a definite possibility, if we got into the final,” Crews said.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but I suppose you have got to have something in mind.”

One of the definite positives leading into the series is that in that 2016 Great Southern Star she performed very well in the both the heat and final (second and fourth), so if she was able to make the final she would have no excuses when it comes to backing up, which of cause after running 1:50.1 in the first heat 12 months ago, series favourite and champion Bold Eagle couldn’t do in the final two hours later.

Speaking about Bold Eagle, Fred said: “He tried to blow them away in the heat and the final, but he is obviously the best horse in Europe.”

“You’ve got to have a horse 100 per cent on the day, if a horse is only 99 per cent then things can go wrong. We certainly don’t underestimate him and we know he is the one to beat, we didn’t want to be in the heat with him, we would’ve preferred to be with any other lot of horses but it is what it is and if you come over here you’ve got to be prepared to take on the best and hopefully beat them.

“I guess it depends on whether we decide to attack for the lead. Todd doesn’t arrive here until Friday so we haven’t had that discussion with him obviously but I think we’ll probably wait a bit longer and Brent will probably have a talk to Stig about tactics as he is the expert over here. I know Brent has been asking him a lot of questions and he greatly respects the man and trying to learn from him. I’m sure he’ll still be asking him questions on Sunday here at Solvalla, but we don’t need to make a decision now regarding tactics.”

Maori Time overall has had nine different drivers throughout her career so it was always going to be interesting to see who got the nod to drive her and it was Sydney reinsmen Todd McCarthy, who we will chat to later in the week, who drove her in Sydney and is one from one aboard the mare, who picked the huge drive up.

“He’s the driver who won in the quickest time; we just felt a young, keen, aggressive driver is probably what is needed to win in a series like this”.

Following her 1:51.5 win in Sydney, Maori Time is the one of the top six fastest horses in the entire series and the third fastest horse in her heat behind Bold Eagle (1:50.1 in the first heat 12 months ago) and Takethem (1:51.3 in the same race when 5th!).

“We don’t know how the times line up, the times at Menangle are on a 1400m track whereas the times here at Solvalla are on a 1000m track and it’s a softer track and it is a different banking and everything else.

“From our point of the only way to compare the horses is race against them.”

Keep following thetrots.com.au throughout the week as I’ll be bringing you all the action from the Elitloppet, including social media coverage of the Final night on Sunday night/early hours of Monday morning.
Harness Racing Victoria




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