"HE WAS an absolute star, just an unbelievable trotter," says Todd Matthews, recalling his Group 1 win aboard Will Trapper in the Bill Collins Trotters Sprint in 2008.
Trained at Sedgwick by John Noonan, the then seven-year-old son of Keystone Salute provided Matthews with one of his biggest ever thrills in the sulky with a scintillating victory in one of Australia's best short-course square gaiting tests.
The 2021 edition of the race, worth $50,000, will be run this Saturday night, one of a fascinating four Group 1 features to be hosted by the Bendigo Harness Racing Club at Lord's Raceway.
A blockbuster night of racing will be headlined by the $300,000 Victoria Cup (2150m) and the finals of the $200,000 Victoria Derby (2650m)and $150,000 Victoria Oaks (2650m).
Only one Bendigo region trotter has been successful in the Bill Collins Sprint, which dates back to 1996 and was named in honour of the man who is widely acclaimed as Australia's greatest-ever racecaller.
His name? Will Trapper. And he is one of four horses to have won the race twice or more.
The first of two wins came during a prolific 2008 campaign, which included an Inter Dominion Trotting Championship heat win and a second placing in the Inter Dominion Trotting Championship Final at Moonee Valley, both with Matthews in the sulky.
His second victory three-years later remains a testament to the persistence and healing prowess of owner-trainer Noonan, a veterinary chiropractor.
Following his win in the Group 2 Majestic Son Cranbourne Trotters Cup and a second in the Group 1 Australian Trotting Grand Prix at Moonee Valley in late 2009, Will Trapper went amiss with a suspensory injury.
After a long road to recovery, his career was briefly resurrected in early 2011, when he had one start for a fourth placing in the Maori Mile at Lord's Raceway in January before a further setback.
The now 10-year-old would reappear at the trials nine months later and following one start against the pacers in late November, was back doing what he did best, terrorising the trotters by claiming his second Bill Collins Trotters Sprint at Cranbourne, this time driven by Nathan Jack.
Backing-up in the Australian Trotting Grand Prix seven-days later, Will Trapper finished second behind I Didnt Do it before eking out one final win in a free for all at Tabcorp Park Melton in January 2012, ahead of a well-earned retirement.
A dual Group 1 and dual Group 2-winner, he finished his career with 14 wins and 10 placings from 44 starts for earnings of $266,100.
Matthews, who drove the trotter in 33 of his starts for 11 wins, described Will Trapper as an absolute star, all the while acknowledging the extraordinary training performance by Noonan in helping the trotter overcome a succession of setbacks.
"He cut his leg really badly as a young horse and his owner Gary Bailey did a bit of work with him, but could never get him right, so he sent him to John to get going," he said.
"John actually leased him and I was working for him at the time.
"He was perennially injury-prone - there was always something wrong with him.
"John had a real knack for helping sore animals and was known for his ability to manipulate the muscles of greyhounds and horses, so he was always able to keep (Will Trapper) as sound as he could.
"The horse basically came from nowhere to become one of the best trotters of his time. You don't run second in an Inter Dominion final if you are a slouch.
"He only qualified two weeks' before the series from the mobile, which probably cost him in the final as he drew the one in the final and got buried back on the fence.
"He got out late and basically stormed home for second."
With Matthews no longer his driver, nor even licensed to drive after taking up a position with Harness Racing Victoria as a starter, Will Trapper re-emerged in 2011 to win his second Bill Collins Trotters Sprint.
The former Group 1-winning reinsman said it took 'an absolutely brilliant' effort on the part of Noonan to get him back up and firing.
"He was a serious horse and when he wasn't injured he was just anything. He had so much untapped ability," Matthews said.
"John did an amazing job with him - brilliant. Such a good trainer.
"He only ever trained a couple, but he had a few nice ones.
"He was Peter Manning's (muscle) manipulator when Peter was absolutely flying and everyone knew John Noonan. He would have worked on everyone's racehorses in Victoria at some stage.
"He was very much in demand."
Second behind Will Trapper in his 2008 Bill Collins Sprint win was Viva La Fever, for the combination of Sutton Grange trainer Ross Graham and champion driver Brian Gath, with Sundons Gift (Chris Lang), who galloped late in proceedings, close by in third.
Ironically, while no other Bendigo region-trained horse has ever won the race, if one is to break the drought this Saturday night, it could well be the one trained by Ross Graham's brother Leigh, who has Nephew Of Sonoko engaged in the race.
He is joined in the field by a second home region runner Sundons Courage for owner-trainers Chris and Brad Angove and to be driven by Bendigo's Jayden Brewin.
Both will start as outsiders in the field at current odds of 80-1 (Nephew Of Sonoko) and 125-1.
A raging favourite is Majestuoso, for Kate and Andy Gath, at $1.35 following his impressive back-to-back wins in the Group 3 Shepparton Trotters Cup and Group 3 Chris Howe Trotters Free for All at Bendigo last week.
Pink Galahs is next in line in the betting at $4.60, with I'm Ready Jet ($8) the only other horse under double figure odds.
On a huge night for the Bendigo Harness Racing Club, which is hosting the Victoria Cup and Oaks and Derby finals for the first time at Lord's Raceway, Matthews is hoping for a competitive performance from both local horses.
As for the hypothetical question of where a Will Trapper at his best would stack up against the likes of Majestuoso, the 39-year-old said he knows which horse he's be placing his faith in.
"That's a hard one - but if he was 100 per cent, I would jump off any other horse to be on him. He was a star," he said.
"Majestuoso is obviously the benchmark in this field.
"I've driven some really nice young ones - Staccato won a Breeders Crown Final as a two-year-old and a Sires Stakes (in 2007), and I've driven a couple of nice Inter Dominion horses.
"But if Will Trapper was sound, he was just an unbelievable trotter."
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