By BARRY LICHTER
Nicky Chilcott’s rib injuries might have prevented her from driving Sacred Mountain to a dominant win at Cambridge on Thursday night but the call from delighted Melbourne owner Merv Butterworth after the race more than compensated for it.
Chilcott, still nursing her injuries from a heavy crash from Monkey Selfie on Christmas Eve, took over the training of the Muscle Hill filly only two months ago, one of two horses Butterworth sent north from Southland under Cambridge’s summer trans-Cook subsidy scheme.
Butterworth, one of Australia’s leading owners whose New Zealand Cup winner Copy That is trained by Lincoln Farms’ Ray Green, was keen to try the mare with Chilcott who is renowned for her skills with trotters.
Despite having shown real ability, Sacred Mountain had won only two of her 20 starts for Gore trainer Brian Norman and when she first arrived at White Star Stables, it wasn’t hard to see why when she hung so terribly in her work, she could barely get round the corners.
Butterworth knew all about the mare’s ability and problems, having watched her right from her early education at workouts and trials.
Having previously bought two of her half brothers from Norman - (Blue) Sky Commander, who won 16 races and A$152,536 and Ace Commander (5 wins and A$40,949) - Butterworth not surprisingly was keen for a third from the family.
“When I saw Sacred Mountain doing well at workouts and trials I rang Brian but he said ‘you’re not going to buy this one’.
“But he couldn’t get her going straight. He even gave her to Brett Gray to try and she was worse with a pole.”
Sacred Mountain remained winless in 13 starts and it was only after Norman spelled her and tried again that she showed her true worth, resuming with a five and a quarter length win at Invercargill last September.
When the mare ran fourth at her next start the jury was still out on whether she would go on with the job but Butterworth was confident in her ability and made a another bid to buy her.
“I took the risk because I thought she had terrific ability and I knew the mare (Aceofdiamonds) and her history. Brian was hesitant to sell because he wanted to breed from her but he’s a good bloke and we made a deal that I would give her back to him when she was retired.”
Three days after the ink had dried on the agreement Sacred Mountain had her first start for Butterworth - and won by 14 and a quarter lengths.
“I didn’t even get the vet inspection done until four days after I bought her.”
Three starts later, after Sacred Mountain continued to do things wrong, blowing races from a mobile and a stand, she was on her way north to Cambridge.
When the mare had her first start for Chilcott on Christmas Eve, she was like a new horse, steering like a dream and, despite not being ready, pushing hot favourite Bohemian Rhapsody up the home straight.
A week later on New Year’s Eve at Auckland, she completely botched the start for Blair Orange and beat one home. But on Thursday, despite swinging sideways, she trotted away smartly for new driver Maurice McKendry and after a tussle with Luk Chin on Safrakova made the lead.
“She’s got real speed and she was never going to get beaten after that,” McKendry said of her two and a quarter length win in a smart 2.50.1 for the 2200 metres. “She jogged it.”
Still rated only 52, Chilcott is buoyant over Sacred Mountain’s future given her lovely turn of foot. She believes the mare is right up to contesting the $30,000 Gr.3 Waikato Trotting Breeders’ Stakes at Cambridge on February 11.
Butterworth is bullish too: “Her two half brothers were by Monarchy and Skyvalley, and she’s by Muscle Hill, so she should do better still.”
Butterworth was almost as pleased with the run earlier in the night of Prince Envy who has also shown dramatic improvement for Chilcott since arriving in late October.
Prince Envy has been a headache for Butterworth since he bought the horse, galloping more often than not and even refusing to score up behind the gate.
Not since his seven and three-quarter length win at Invercargill in November, 2020, when trained by Gray, has he threatened to test the judge and in three starts for Michael House he fared little better.
Butterworth thought his eyes were deceiving him on Thursday night when he saw Prince Envy trotting beautifully in the lead for Dylan Ferguson.
”I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, with him bowling along in front. I thought Nicky must have another horse in the race and I’d got them confused.
“I couldn’t believe how fast he got off the mark.”
While nailed in the run home by Strength Of Heart, Prince Envy showed a win wasn’t far away. It was the fourth time in his last five starts that he has earned stakemoney for Butterworth, Chilcott blaming herself for the only miss when he galloped as she pulled his hood on the home turn.
Butterworth sent Prince Envy to Chilcott because of her experience with the family.
Prince Envy’s dam Landora’s Jade (renamed Glenferrie Jade) is a half-sister to Monkey Selfie, one of five she has trained out of her former speedy mare Landora’s Image.
The appearance of Butterworth’s third trotter with Chilcott, Pearlspur, has been delayed by tying up issues, but she is due to trial on Saturday.