By BARRY LICHTER
Trainer Nicky Chilcott credits Matamata vet Barbara Hunter with turning Sacred Mountain from the wicked witch of the west into an avenging angel at Cambridge on Christmas Eve.
Chilcott was fizzing about how well the classy trotter had come up this preparation only to see her perform poorly in her first run back and fail to even go away in her second.
“She got into a real state before that first race at Cambridge and felt terrible even in the warm-up. And at Auckland she had to stand for only a split second, reared, spun round and tipped me out of the cart. She can kangaroo away but had never done that before. Clearly something wasn’t right.”
Sacred Mountain’s lovely nature around the stable also disappeared and she became ultra grumpy, wanting to kick and bite even when her rug was being put on.
“I got the chiropracter to her and we couldn’t find much wrong but a suggestion from Barbara that we up the dose of her ulcer medication completely changed her attitude. I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse that’s changed so quickly over something that small.
“Was it a coincidence? Who knows. I have been having a lot of problems with mares at this time of the year but that’s the only thing we changed with her.”
Chilcott signalled the improvement in her pre-race Facebook prediction and earlybird punters reaped a $3.20 Christmas present as she raced past her rivals in the home straight to win by one and a quarter lengths with driver Andre Poutama not even pulling the deafeners.
“She swished by them very easily, then pulled up but, realistically, in such a small field she should have been able to beat them straight out of the paddock.
“I’m stoked to see her back in the winner’s circle, and that has to give her confidence, but can we really take a lot out of the result?
“I need to see more before I say, yes, she’s back to where we need to be for her to be competitive in open class.”
Sacred Mountain only had to trot 3:33.2 for the 2700 metres, home in 59.9 and 29.4, on a track which Chilcott said wasn’t actually as bad as it looked after all the rain.
A better guide on how Sacred Mountain compares could come as soon as New Year’s Eve when she is likely to back up in the Group III $50,000 Greenlane Cup (2700m stand) at Alexandra Park.
Chilcott, however, saw enough from the rising six-year-old last prep to suggest she can make the difficult transition to open class racing.
After winning five races as a four-year-old, going through the grades, Sacred Mountain found this last season more testing, winning only twice, but she butted heads with top quality opposition in several Group features.
She finished third behind Aldebaran Zeus and Love In The Port in the Waikato Flying Mile but ruined her chance in Muscle Mountain’s Lyell Creek, breaking on the first bend.
It was her eighth in Eurokash’s Anzac Cup that gave Chilcott the most hope she could be competitive with the best when, after sitting parked and proving difficult to steer, she was right up with the placegetters 200 metres out.
“She didn’t really have the ringcraft before - it’s a massive jump to the top class - so we’ll give her her chance this season. But while it would be sad to lose a mare like her, her future probably lies in Australia where there are so many more opportunities.”
Melbourne owners Merv and Meg Butterworth are happy to let Chilcott make that call herself and in the meantime she has two $40,000 feature races for fillies and mares to aim for, the Waikato Trotting Breeders’ Stakes at Cambridge on January 29 and Northern Trotting Breeders’ Stakes at Auckland on February 16.
“They’re never easy to win from back marks if they run fast off the front so life won’t get easier for her,” Chilcott said.
Sacred Mountain’s win took her career tally to nine wins, 15 placings and $116,633 in stakes.
And it boosted Chilcott’s season tally to 25, the seventh best in the north, equalling her mark of last year, with slightly higher earnings of $292,925.