YEAR: 2007

The win by Jacanti Franco in the $60,000 NRM Sires' Stakes 2YO Trotters Championship as Addington was not the only first in the race. Just as important were the facts that Steven McRae had trained his first Group winner, and that Continentalman had sired his first as well.

All three were notable in other ways: it was only the second start for Jacanti Franco but she's obviously picked up her game quickly; Continentalman has only two crops on the track; and the only other trotter McRae remembers at Spreydon Lodge was Franco Habit, onr John Hay won with when he was private trainer 10 years ago.

"It was a big thrill," said McRae, who has been in his present role at Spreydon for three years but on the payroll for 13. Because of Spreydon's focus on sales moreso than racing, he doesn't get too many opportunities at high stakes like this, but he predicted the possibility of it a year ago. "I remember having dinner with the owners, and they asked mr who was the next young horse we could expect something special from. They got a shock when I told them there was a yearling trotting filly by Continentalman who could be the one to watch for. She broke in as good as any we had last year. She was fast, and showed ability from 'Day One'. It's the only Continentalman I've had and there's no more I can see coming at present," he said.

And while the conservative McRae is looking forward to starting her in the Harness Jewels, he said he was just as keen on seeing her end this campaign because she wanted a break.

Jacanti Franco is from Jaguar Franco, a Sundon mare who was sold at a reduction sale a year ago. She is the dam of a yearling filly by C R Commando, and is owned in Christchurch by Dave Still.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HR Weekly 16May07


YEAR: 2008


Steve McRae warned she was good. And he was right, we just hadn't seen the full extent of Jumanji Franco's talent until she won the $30,000 NRM NZ 2YO Trotting Stakes at Addington last Friday night.

Despite working hard from a wide marble to eventually hit the front, Jumanji Franco had plenty in reserve when the challengers came calling at the end, needing little more than a chirp up from driver Craig Thornley to score by a length and a half. It was the third outing and first victory for the daughter of CR Commando, and afterwards Thornley paid tribute to McRae for getting her to peak at the most important stage of the season. "Steve's timed her preparation to perfection - just like he did with Jacanti Franco," Thornley said, referring to this time last year when Jumanji Franco's year older half-sister took out the NRM Sires' Stakes 2yo Trotters Championship at start number two.

That event is this Saturday, and now the pair's dam Jaguar Franco has a very real chance of a noteworthy back-to-back double. "Her blood wasn't right during the week, so if anything she should improve," Thornley claimed. "She's got a lovely way of going, this filly. And it's better when they eyeball her, because she concentrates then; otherwise she's looking all round the place."

McRae hasn't trained many trotters in his time, and after the "freakish ability" Jacanti Franco showed he thought he'd never get another one as good. Seems he was wrong about that, but he's not complaining. "Jumanji's a completely different type to Jacanti," McRae said, meaning not only their builds. "Jacanti had a few tricks, and didn't like the grit in her face for a start. But Jumanji's never galloped at home in her life. The best thing about Jumanji is probably her gait. She's very light on her feet, and everything's very effortless to her. You'd hardly get excited about her in training, because she just flops about on a loose rein - but she's a real professional," he said.

The dogs were barking about Jumanji Franco at a very early stage though, and the filly was sold for a six-figure sum to Victorian enthusiast Peter Chambers before she'd even qualified. "That's how much we thought of her," McRae said. "I've never met the guy actually. He's a mate of Ted Demmler's, and that's where Jumanji will be heading after the Jewels. It'll be a shame to loose her, but that's the nature of our business I suppose; it's happened before, and it'll happen again." McRae says that with the Jewels these days its a big enough season for baby trotters, and given a decent three to four-month spell after Cambridge Jumanji Franco should come back "a really nice horse at three".

As for Jacanti Franco, who's by Continentalman, she's all but recovered from her tendon injury and should be back in work towards the end of June. "Hopefully she'll resume sometime in Spring. We'll see if we can make up for lost time, and win some stakes so we can target the Jewels with her next year," McRae said.

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 7May08

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