FEATURE RACE COMMENT
Monkey King's performance to win on Friday night was nothing short of sensational, because he was last of the nine-horse bunch and being chirped up as he sped past the 600m mark. Driver Todd Mitchell waited, and waited, and it wasn't until Monkey King was fully around the home turn and straightened before his pilot pushed the turbo button. The response was electrifying, and Monkey King devoured metre after metre in time to catch Ambro The Thug just short of the post. His time for the 1950m event was a super 2:22.2 in the cool conditions, representing a mile rate of 1:57.3, and considering the last half was run in 58.1 off the front Monkey King must have covered his final stanza in close to 56!
Mitchell paid the Sands A Flyin gelding the ultimate compliment when he returned to the stabling area...
"For sheer speed, he's the quickest horse I have ever driven," Mitchell said. "He doesn't wear plugs or nothing. He's just that bloody relaxed, he doesn't really do anything until you pull him into the clear and ask him to go. They had gone that hard early tonight that I knew they had to come back to us - I still didn't think he could win from where he was though. And cripes, when I pulled him out at the top of the straight he nearly went into a gallop because he was going that fast. Bailey hasn't got speed like him."
Monkey King has won five of his nine starts thus far, and Friday was a welcome return to the winner's circle for a horse whose finishing burst is now firmly entrenched as his trademark. He did the same thing on debut back in October when runing third, making up a tonne of ground behind Waipipi Express, then won four in a row, and in the outing prior to last week he took lengths off Awesome Armbro to run second after giving that rival a mighty head start turning for home and pacing his last half in 55.2.
Monkey King's only other two outings resulted in an inglorious 'last of 13' when he failed to score up behind the mobile at Alexandra Park at the start of this month, and prior to that he ran fourth during what was a horror trip across the Tasman in January. "Over in Aussie he was a dead horse all week," Mitchell said. "We had a lot of trouble with him tying up in the muscles, and he just didn't feel like himself at any stage. It has taken a month to get him right, probably even longer."
Monkey King is trained by Steven Reid, and his victory on Friday capped a stellar night for the Pukekohe stable. Reid trained the winners of the first two races at Alexandra Park - La Bella Mafia and Man On Mars - and in Mitchell's absence he made a rare appearence in the sulky and even drove the first of those himself.
In charge of the team in Christchurch last week was Reid's right-hand-man Brendon Hill, and he took a lot of care when ungearing a very fractious Monkey King after the Flying Stakes victory. Asked if the 3-year-old was always like that, Hill replied "he is when he is right. When they are as good as him it's the sort of thing you don't mind putting up with though," Hill said. "It's just him. He's like Bailey - he's got heaps of character. And speed? He's got enough of it to make you fall out of the back of the cart."
Now that the dust has settled on the Flying Stakes, the focus switches to this week's big one for the 3-year-olds - the NZ Derby. There is a glint in Mitchell's eye as he thinks about his prospects with Monkey King, and quite rightly so too, because the horse is right at the top of his game again and he proved last week tha he could win from anywhere.
As much as Mitchell seems to have a mortgage on the biggest of Addington's feature races, the NZ Cup, having won four of the last seven, a NZ Derby winning drive is something that has eluded the talented Waikato reinsman so far. And that is despite fashioning a good record in the Flying Stakes too; Mitchell won the race in 2003 with Allstar Blue Jean, again last year with Bailey's Dream, and now has a 'three from the last four' record thanks to Monkey King. "I pulled the wrong rein with Allstar Blue Jean, and should have gone earlier; I ran sixth," Mitchell lamented. "Then Bailey got run down by Badlands Bute last year. It would be nice to win the Derby with Monkey King, because he's not paid up for anything else like the Sales Series or Sires' Stakes. He never showed enough early on."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 29Mar06