By Duane Ranger
Frank and Karen Bennett know the significance of Saturday's $22,170 Jim McNeil Memorial Trotting Championship Final at Albion Park.
The Jimboomba-based couple, who only work trotters at their Logan City stable, have loved the squaregaiter for as long as they can remember.
The Bennetts won the Group Three ‘Jim McNeill’ with Its Three By Two (Clint Sneddon) five years ago, and they would again dearly love to win the race which is named in honour of one of the pioneers of trotting in Queensland.
The Bennetts will launch a two-pronged attack on Saturday’s final with Soh Twisted (1) and El Swavo (8).
"I think Jim, and Ross Smith, were the instigators of trotting in the State, and Karen and I really respect what they did for the squaregaiter here in Queensland,” Frank Bennett said.
"We came over from New Zealand nine years ago last September to retire after being involved in harness racing for many years there before that. I trained standardbreds (1966-2010) and Karen had gallopers.
“When I got here I just couldn’t get it out of my blood, so Karen does the training now and I drive a bit. We’ve got four in work – all trotters and I think we won it the race the second year after it was initiated,” Bennett (Frank) said.
His wife said it was an honour to line up two horses in Saturday’s 2647m stand.
“We would love to win the race as a mark of respect to Jim. It was a thrill winning it in 2014 and hopefully we can go close again this time,” Bennett (Karen) said.
Husband Frank will drive El Swavo from the 30m handicap while Sneddon will steer Soh Twisted from gate one. Both trotters haven't finished further back than fourth in their last five starts.
“It’s hard to say which one I prefer more because they are both racing consistently and I’d be rapt if they could maintain that form-line,” Frank said.
“Perhaps the one on the front line has a slightly better chance because the other one will have his job cut out from 30 metres behind.
“For him (El Swavo) to win he would have to make his usual flying start and then get a perfect sit so he can have one go at them late in the race.”
He said he would be happy if either one, or both could place, and thought the Graham Dwyer trained duo of Greg The Great (10m) and Redriverdebba (40m) as the hardest to beat, along with the Don Hancock trained Miss Invasion (10m).
"It's a good field and those three go well and the ones of the 10m handicap could be hard to catch. We only bought Soh Twisted three months ago and she she is the grand-daughter of Jenny's Rocket, who went pretty well back home for Maurice O'Leary,” Frank said.
"That's the only reason I bought her. Hopefully she can get a nice sit from one and then run on okay in the straight.”
El Swavo was bought privately by the Bennetts as a 3-year-old in November 2016 and has had 56 six starts with them for six wins and 12 placings. He had 10 races in Victoria prior to that for two placings.
“He will have a wee let off after this race and then we will progress towards the Winter Carnival here,” driver Bennett said.
Jim McNeil and the Group Three Jim McNeil Memorial Trotting Championship:
The ‘McNeil’ is the one of most important of the four feature trot races in the Queensland calendar.
It commemorates the contribution to trotting by the late Jim McNeil. who made trotting races a reality in the Sunshine State.
McNeil invested a large sum of money in loosely assessed trotters, which he purchased in New Zealand and flew them to Queensland. They then fell into the hands of trainers who were keen to see the gait progress.
It was instant racing, and 21 years later and the breed is still forging steadily ahead in Queensland.