Steve and Karen Hollander with a previous winner. Photo: Royden Williams
A couple of months can be a long time in harness racing and that is certainly evident in the case of Lincoln Moment, who contests the feature pace at Manawatu Raceway on Thursday evening.
Rewind six weeks and the four-year-old pacer was tentatively booked on a plane to Brisbane in May by his Auckland co-owner Steve Hollander.
The horse’s trainer, Doug Gale, had made it clear to Hollander that he was winding down his operation to just six horses next season, and neither Lincoln Moment nor stablemate Gotta Moment were slated to be in the lucky half-dozen.
But since then Lincoln Moment has turned the corner and convinced his trainer that he’s one to keep and at the same time, he’s become the bastion of hope for Hollander.
Late last month, Hollander, from Dairy Flat, was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
It came out of the blue, but it was a battle he was ready to wage, having already beaten prostate cancer a decade earlier.
The surgery took place on March 27, the same day as a Manawatu meeting.
“Lincoln Moment was racing that day at half-past-four,” said Hollander.
“The surgery was scheduled for midday and supposed to last about three hours.
“I came in to recovery about 4.25 and woke up a couple of minutes later, just in time to hear the race.
“My son held his phone up to my ear for me to listen.”
Lincoln Moment duly obliged and won convincingly.
“Karen (wife) had to keep me under control and stop me from leaping off the stretcher; I’d only just got out of a three-hour brain surgery.”
In further good news, the tumour was benign and Hollander is now on the road to recovery.
“I’ve been extraordinarily lucky and I’m very thankful to have a nice horse starting to perform like we hoped.”
The planned secondment to Australia is probably cancelled now, as is any potential sale.
“We’re just three old guys who will get more out of watching him race than selling him,” said Hollander.
Gale says that while the improvement in Lincoln Moment has only been gradual, it’s been continued and worthwhile.
“It hasn’t been rapid improvement but it’s been sustained.
“He used to be able to sprint for 100 metres but now he can hold it for a lot longer as he’s gotten stronger.
“I actually think, now, there’s no other horse around this area that he couldn’t compete with.
“That’s why I’ve said to Steve that I think he should hold on to him for another year and we can race him in the Country Cups next season.
“I’ve committed to cutting down to six next year after dropping to ten this season.
“My wife and I are both pensioners now and if I loaded us up with any more than that, I’d get in trouble.”
Gale, too, has endured numerous major health issues in the past couple of years, stemming from a nasty bout of pancreatitis.
He’ll take two others to the meeting, Gotta Moment and The Kapiti Express, and he’s confident at least one of them is a strong winning chance.
The Kapiti Express put up a superb effort to run second on Tuesday – his third placing in a row – after covering plenty of ground.
Gale says the three-year-old son of Betterthancheddar has claims to being a much better horse than the grade in which he currently finds himself, but an ongoing injury niggle has hindered his season.
“He’s had a couple of injury issues to deal with. Nothing serious but enough to affect the way I could train him.
“I haven’t really been able to hopple him between his races until recently.
“And he got a virus which he is still feeling the effects of, so I don’t think he’s 100 percent yet.
“But he seems to have come through Tuesday’s race nicely and I expect him to go really well again.”
Coincidentally, Gale, his wife Wendy and daughter, Erin, are sponsoring Lincoln Moment’s race, too.