Champion pacer Christen Me to leave NZ but race on in North America

Christen Me won an incredible 32  races across New Zealand and Australia.
Martin Hunter

Christen Me won an incredible 32 races across New Zealand and Australia.

Champion pacer Christen Me has run his last race on New Zealand soil.

The 11 time Group I winner, who earned his connections more than $2,470,000 in stakes, will continue his racing career in North America.

His departure, in three weeks time, brings the curtain down on what has been a life changing era for Cran Dalgety.

Vicki Purdon and Cran Dalgety celebrate Christen Me's New Zealand Free-For-All victory in 2014.
John Kirk-Anderson

Vicki Purdon and Cran Dalgety celebrate Christen Me's New Zealand Free-For-All victory in 2014.

The Canterbury-based trainer guided the career of the exceptional pacer for 66 of his 68 starts across Australasia.

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Christen Me would be sold, but Dalgety confirmed there was a possibility his owners, Charlie Roberts and Vicki Purdon, could retain a share.

Dexter Dunn has driven Christen Me to all 11 of his Group I wins.
Phil Walter

Dexter Dunn has driven Christen Me to all 11 of his Group I wins.

Dalgety said it was still very much on the radar that he would return to New Zealand when he retired from racing.

The decision to send the star pacer overseas had been an emotional and difficult process for his connections, but one Dalgety is adamant is the right decision for the horse.

At his best, Christen Me was every bit as good as his record suggests.

Cran Dalgety will say a sad goodbye to Christen Me when he heads to North America in three weeks.
Carys Monteath

Cran Dalgety will say a sad goodbye to Christen Me when he heads to North America in three weeks.

Being named the New Zealand Horse of the Year for the 2014/15 season as well as countless other awards from all over Australasia proved that.

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But right in his prime, when his reputation as the pin-up boy of pacing across Australasia and immense popularity were in full swing, Christen Me was struck down with a virus in the lead up to the 2015 New Zealand Trotting Cup.

He would be sidelined for 10 and a half months and when he did return, he was never the same.

Vicki Purdon and Charlie Roberts have enjoyed an amazing ride with Christen Me.
Phil Doyle

Vicki Purdon and Charlie Roberts have enjoyed an amazing ride with Christen Me.

He did win two more races, including the Group III Rangiora Classic, but his once scintillating speed and stamina were gone.

His connections felt it likely, the son of Christian Cullen out of standout broodmare Splendid Dreams, had been suffering from minor pulmonary haemorrhages.

In North America, the use of Lasix, which helps prevent such bleeding, is within the rules of racing and has helped revive the career of many New Zealand and Australian horses.

Three time Harness Jewels winner Sky Major recently won in North America after struggling to find his best form in New Zealand and Australia.

Dalgety said it was frustrating that he could not race on competitively in New Zealand or that they could not take him to North America themselves, but neither option was realistic.

"With the way things are over there he could really improve," he said.

"He's got a lot of life left in him yet, he's only had 68 starts so he hasn't been overaced."

Dalgety was aware there would be criticism for not sending Christen Me off for a happy retirement but the other side of the equation was that the horse deserves the chance to finish his stellar career on a high.

"He's happy, healthy and still enjoying his work and racing so do we really want to shove him in a paddock and watch him charge up and down the fence line? He's got the next 20 years to do that.

"People could say I should have done the same with Bit Of A Legend, but he's gone over there and won $1.2 million New Zealand dollars in the last 18 months.

"The good ones love being around the stable and love racing, that's what sets them apart," Dalgety said.

The decision was a fine balance of a good business move and what was best for the horse, he said.

It is hard to make a case for it being any different to an All Black who was on the downward slide and taking up a lucrative playing contact overseas.

Dalgety is confident most harness racing purists would remember Christen Me's brilliance rather than the struggles of the last 12 months.

At his peak, Christen Me, Dalgety and regular driver Dexter Dunn were as close to household names as racing identities get.

All of Christen Me's 32 victories came in Dalgety's colours, including the first eight in as many starts after transferring from the Mark Purdon and Grant Payne training partnership.

Winning the 2014 Miracle Mile was an obvious standout for Dalgety amongst a career full of highlights.

Christen Me did not contest an Inter Dominion series, and the only major scalp he missed out on that he did start in was the New Zealand Trotting Cup.

"For New Zealand trainers, the big one is the New Zealand Cup and then if you can't win that you really want the Miracle Mile," Dalgety said.

His best result from three Cup attempts, was his third behind Terror To Love in 2013 but his best performance came the following year.

He blew the start, was held up significantly in the last 400m and still charged home to finish fifth, just three and a half lengths behind race winner Adore Me.

Dalgety said he was lucky and privileged to be involved with a horse like Christen Me.

Although he never won a Cup, Christen Me's name would always be in the discussion when the best horses not to win a Cup were mulled over.

"People said that he couldn't stay the two miles, but he sat parked and won the Hunter Cup (3280m)," Dalgety said.

When it comes time to say goodbye, it would not be easy. Christen Me has been a major part of the Dalgety family's life.

"He's laid back around the stables, but he's got a strong personality on race day that you cannot help but like.

"He's been a flag bearer for our stable for many reasons," Dalgety said.

He knows a horse like Christen Me may be a once in a lifetime experience, but he can already look to a bright future with Friday night's Group I Northern Derby winner Raukapuka Ruler and Group II Delightful Lady Classic winner Bettor Joy.

"It was unexpected to win the Derby, but a massive thrill for us and the filly has got a really bright future," Dalgety said.

Bettor Joy will stay in the North to contest a Sires Stakes heat at Alexandra Park in two weeks time and Raukapuka Ruler will head back to Canterbury to prepare for the New Zealand Derby.

The departure of Christen Me follows the recent defection of fellow Group I winning pacers Mossdale Conner (United States) and Tiger Tara (Australia).

 - Stuff

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