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A yarn after a Strath Taieri rugby training session about 20 years ago has led to the appearance of Franco Ledger in the New Zealand Trotting Cup this afternoon.
Franco Ledger, a 5yr-old, is fresh off a good run at Ashburton last month.
The horse, raced by the What Ever syndicate, finished a gutsy fourth in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, and is a chance in the main race at Addington today.
Franco Ledger was bought by the syndicate four years ago at the yearling sales in Christchurch but the syndicate goes back a lot further than that.
Paul O'Neill, a former Otago rugby player and selector, said after rugby training at Middlemarch about 20 years ago he and a few mates decided to buy some horses.
"The first horse we got was a broodmare and it was no good.
"I can't even remember the name of it but it didn't do any good," O'Neill said yesterday.
The syndicate, which started with six members - O'Neill, Ken McConnell, Bruce Harvie, Rob Wilks, Bevan Dowling and Neil Tisdall - dipped into breeding but that was not much of a success, either.
About eight years ago, they decided to head along to the yearling sales at Christchurch.
They had some success, particularly with Franco Ledger.
"He was well bred, although he was a bit on the small side.
"He is still small now. But if he was a bit bigger then we probably would not have been able to buy him."
The syndicate paid $35,000 for the horse. He has won $169,508.
O'Neill said Franco Ledger was a chance today, though he would need some luck.
"He's had three runs this year and won two of them, and the last one in Ashburton he never got out until it was too late. He had a good run in the Cup Trial.
"He's got a lot of speed and if he is reasonably handy, then he is in with a chance."
Franco Ledger is trained by Hamish Hunter at Ryal Bush, and will be driven by Hunter.
O'Neill, who farms between Macraes and Hyde, will be at Addington today along with other syndicate members.
Two others, Fly Like An Eagle and Major Mark, have Otago ties.
East Taieri breeders Phil and Margaret Creighton have 25% shares in both Fly Like An Eagle and Major Mark. They are trained by Mark Purdon, who has five horses in the race.
Phil Creighton said Fly Like An Eagle worked well on Sunday, and had some X-factor about him.
The biggest obstacle for him was getting a good start.
"We'll know after 100m how he is going to go... but he went to Kaikoura and came home in 54.1 when he was fourth wide on the bend. And he's improved since then."
It is the first time the couple have had a runner in the race.
Major Mark would be a contender if he got the right run, Creighton said. He will be driven by Colin De Filippi, while Purdon will drive Fly Like An Eagle.
Three to watch
Terror To Love
(39 starts, 16 wins, 13 placings)
Deserves to be at the shortest price. Had a brilliant finish to win the Cup last year, and has been in seriously good form this season.
(37 starts, 15 wins, eight placings)
A horse with the X-factor and the right trainer-driver combination.
Pipped Terror To Love in the Canterbury Classic. Good each-way value.
(49 starts, 32 wins, 3 placings)
Seeking to recapture past glories.
The former pin-up horse of trotting, scratched due to injury on the eve of last year's Cup, has been in average form but it would be foolish to discard him completely.