Even though the joy was obvious on Mark’s face and on those who have travelled the long journey with him the satisfaction  for all concerned after  OSCAR BONAVENA’s Dominion Handicap win will last a lot more than a  day.

One of the most brilliant of modern trotters;one of the hardest to train for big races; one with a total record that was not a true reflection of his ability in spite of 19 wins-,something which must have frustrated his connections before yesterday.

Finally in the twilight of his career came the Group One staying race his CV demanded.The moment looked to have passed. Oscar was given one more moment to take the limelight and he seized it like the star he is.

After  years of battling injuries and setbacks;showing humungus speed in between but not so impressive in stamina tests; in striking unreal rivals at theit peak, all the stars aligned on a cold windswept Addington and the great goal was finally reached-Mark’s first win in the race since the remarkable I CAN DOOSIT (which was his first) in 2012.

It has been a long journey.

Mark spotted Oscar Bonavena as a youngster running second to the stable’s outstanding juvenile Enhance Your Calm out of the Williamson stable. He arranged to buy him for 6 figures,not chicken feed for rising stars then and he made his debut for the new stable in the Harness Jewels at Cambridge finishing 6th driven by Natalie.

Chris Ryder had taken a share eyeing future American opportunities and Roy Purdon was his partner courtesy of Mark

Brought up through the spring he went north to win his stable debut and was later spelled until May 2019.From May unitl the end of October he was a sensation winning six in succession.Then came the Domnion Handicap-and failure.

Oscar bounced back to win three in the north including the Cambridge Flying Mile but an Australian trip ended early and Oscar Bonavena,the fastest trotter possibly seen here in modern  times (it was no secret that on the Purdon straight track he could outsprint most of the pacers on the place) was off for surgery,not to be seen at the races again for 13 months.

His basic problem was  a knee but there were associated problems.He had started to fall off his supreme level, usually in the money and always a threat but not with the win strike rate of earlier. Many hours went into his rehabilitation,a lot of them by Mark himself.

He resumed in May 2021 and ran seventh in the Trotting Championship against hot competition (Muscle Mountain,Sundees Sun,Bolt for Brilliance) then tackled the Anzac Cup/Rowe Cup double for minor placings and after two more such was put aside.The elusive crowns of the Rowe Cup and Dominion were slipping away and there were no more mentions of America where his great speed at peak must have carried him a long way.

The spring campaign of 2021 was a mixed bag but featured another display of sheer speed winning the Trotting Free for All a Group One event at least -but not the most elite.

After another defeat by Muscle Mountain the following March  Oscar was transferred to the beach faciliy with Regan Todd.Time was precious at All Stars and his specialised programme required regular swimming something not available there.

Oscar raced well from his new quarters but the essential spark was still missing.

He ran a second to Muscle Mountain (again)  and through the 2002 spring a series of minor placings. All of a sudden Oscar was dropping out of the conversation. It was not the way it was supposed to be.

Back at Rolleston at the Cup meeting Oscar chased Majestic Man in the Worthy Queen  but could only manage eighth in the Dominion (they ran 3.58.4!) returning to the winner list in a lesser FFA with a new driver in the cart-Olivia Thornley

Olivia won again with him in March surrounded by minor placings, the most notable a 2nd in the Rowe Cup to Lovein the Port.

There was some optimisim in the air this spring as further treatment (he was rarely free of it) meant Oscar was seemingly free of the restricted muscles and injuries. He  won three on the trot,all for Olivia and there was an impressive 5th at Kaikoura after being in the rear. The lethal sprint was back.

Could it carry him to a long awaited Premier staying race like the Dominion?

Unfortunately close to raceday it looked as though the answer was no.

“He was really good three weeks ago,whether he is at that peak now we are not sure” Nathan reported on the eve of the meeting.

“His work has not been quite as good the last week or so. But he comes and goes so you can never be sure”

An unusually animated Nathan was ecstatic after the race not just because he has won a Dominion in his first season in the partnership but because of the time he has also put into the horse. As for Olivia-well  all her favourites in the stable have won features in Cup week. It doesn’t come better.

This  week Mark felt he was better and it would all depend on the day. On the day,after the triumph, he said

“He warmed up real good today.Felt right. Best I have felt him for a while.Then we had a few things going our way.

‘Confident throughout?

Well, we were in a good position.Then I heard the commentary say Muscle Mountain wasn’t making progress and that made me feel a lot more confident. He had that old feeling when he shot clear. It means a lot to all our staff because they know the background. A lovely horse,been through a lot.He deserved a race like this and we’re thrilled he’s got it.”

That’s Oscar. He’s demanded patience-but he has given so much in return,and now a Dominion. It still hard to believe he is only 7 and may have a lot more to offer in this shape.

Mark didn’t mention the drive but that was special too.

And could it be  a former part owner in High Places asked for a favour yesterday ? If so Roy would have a strong case. And if so it is case proven



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