Munro loves the montes

A rejuvenated Burt Munro taking part in a monte under Tayla Wenn - Trish Dunell
A rejuvenated Burt Munro taking part in a monte under Tayla Wenn

Trish Dunell

The addition of Monte races to the northern trotting programme has given a new lease of life for aging Cambridge warhorse Burt Munro.

The 12-year-old gelding was all set for retirement until there were whispers earlier this year of the introduction of the tote saddle trot.

Trained at Cambridge by his part-owner Susan Branch, the 174 start veteran had been performing well in exhibition monte races and his connections felt compelled to press on with their charge to tackle the inaugural monte tote races at Alexandra Park.

“He wouldn’t have come back this year possibly if it wasn’t for the talk about the montes coming and he had been holding his own (in the monte trials),” Branch said.

“Earlier, when he wasn’t having to go so hard early, he was running a last quarter in 28.5 (seconds), which he has never done for me in the sulky.”

Branch said she was enticed to enter Burt Munro into the monte races because of his outstanding racing manners.

“I was told because he does everything right he would be a good monte. I think Tayla Wenn (monte rider) came and rode him twice and then he went in his first monte and trotted all the way and looked very stylish, as he does when he’s trotting.

“He actually won a few of the trials, but they were going a lot slower then and trying to make them exhibition races. But he’s struggling a little bit now that they are going faster.”

Burt Munro has started in all three of Alexandra Park’s tote monte races, finishing runner-up in the inaugural race before finishing fourth in his last two outings.

Branch likes the concept of the monte races and believes it is attracting a lot of interest from those in the thoroughbred code.

“They are great in the sense that it’s something different and with the jockeys out there riding them, you get another lot of people interested in them and hopefully bringing their friends along to have a look,” Branch said.

“The other night at Auckland, they had Ellerslie on the same day, and you had Michelle Northcott come, but there was also Tony Pike there and others that wouldn’t usually come to Alexandra Park.

“There are so many people asking now ‘when’s the next monte?’. I think it has created a bit more interest, but if the same three keep winning all the time, that might change.”

Branch said she has made no alterations to her training method when preparing for the montes, with Burt Munro only ridden on race day.

“I don’t ride him. I think it would have been six or seven months before anyone got on his back before he went up there a week before the first tote race, when he went around in a trial.”

After the success of the monte races at Alexandra Park, Branch would like to see Cambridge Raceway adopt tote montes. While all Burt Munro’s monte starts have been behind the mobile, Branch is looking forward to a handicap monte race at Pirongia on Boxing Day.

There she said she will be able to take advantage of Burt Munro’s low rating and impeccable standing start manners.

“I would definitely like to see a tote monte at Cambridge Raceway, but a standing start,” she said. “At Pirongia on Boxing Day, they have a handicap monte done on ratings, which is going to be interesting.

“Standing starts are his forte and you can handicap them on that.”

Burt Munro is the only horse Branch has in work at her Cambridge stable and although she is looking towards retirement, a recent addition could result in the Waikato horsewoman keeping her Cerise colours in commission.

“I’m trying to retire, he’s the only one I am working,” she said. “David (Branch, son) talked me into getting Itsnowornever in-foal and she’s got a colt by Majestic Son on the ground. I was hoping he’d be working that, but I think Mum’s going to be doing it.” – Cambridge Raceway


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