A forgotten trotter flew in from Sydney for the Auckland premier meeting last week, but he can't race until he contests an official trial at Alexandra Park on Sunday.
Expatriate ‘Kiwi’ Murray Howard arrived on Sunday to team up with his Group Three Bulli Cup-winning trotter Benchmark, who he hopes to race at the premier carnival.
Benchmark has furthered his career in good fashion in New South Wales since February but Howard, a ‘travelling wilbury’ foreman for Canterbury trainer Cran Dalgety, decided it’s time to make a permanent return home.
Howard made a fleeting visit back to Canterbury a week before the New Zealand Cup meeting before heading back to Sydney to confirm future plans.
He flew into Auckland straight back into the Dalgety employment as groom for Kentuckiana Lodge stablemates, Bonnie Joan and Bettor Joy, who have taken a couple of boxes alongside the northern arm of the Robert Dunn stable.
“He was always going to come home eventually,” Dalgety said of Howard.
The amicable Howard was a former successful trainer in his own right before taking up a position he couldn't refuse as foreman at Kentuckiana Lodge.
He was the regular travelling groom for former two-time Australasian Grand Circuit champion Christen Me during his frequent Auckland and Australian raids.
"They won't let me race Benchmark in Australia so I thought I'd come to a country where they will," Howard said.
Affectionately known as Muzz, Howard won five races in New South Wales with Benchmark from March through until bowing out of New South Wales on a winning note at Menangle on November 25.
Even though Benchmark, racing as The Benchmark across the Tasman, won the $11,0000 Garrards Horse And Hound Trotters Mobile event at his last start, he fell foul of the stewards and was stood down for a fourth time.
The capable Bacardi Lindy gelding worked to the front for former Kentuckiana Lodge junior driver and now NSW-domiciled Jack Trainor but tangled over the line, copping a two-week stand down and has to trial once.
Benchmark trotted the mobile 2300m in a career best 2:49, a 1:58.2 rate, trotting his last 800m in 58.1s.
He was trained for his latter Sydney racing by Blake Fitzpatrick, whom Howard was employed by in recent months.
At his previous start on November 4, Benchmark was also stood down for 10 days and had to requalify twice before racing on three weeks later.
It was a similar scenario three starts back on October 7 when he broke late under pressure and was also stood down, requalifying twice.
In his Group Three Bulli Trotters Cup win at Menangle on April, when officially trained by Howard, he broke stride early for Jack Trainor and was issued with a stewards warning, despite winning comfortably from fellow NZ-bred, (Our) Summer Vacation.
Benchmark was taken to Menangle to maximise his earning potential.
The move, despite his repeated indiscretions, was a success, earning Howard and his fellow owners $44,547 in just over eight months.
Before his Menangle sojourn, he'd won three of 13 starts in the Dalgety maroon and white colours, including a premier Show Day win at Addington last year in the hands of Dexter Dunn.
He has yet to race right-handed at Alexandra Park.