Pride amid pain as Aussie makes believer of Europeans

Through the thick fog of disappointment comes so many positives for Just Believe and Down Under trotting.

Devastating, heartbreak and “feeling sick” were the first emotions for driver Greg Sugars after Just Believe was tightened, clipped a wheel, broke stride and lost all chance of qualifying for the final in his Elitloppet heat last night.

But the sceptical locals had already seen enough.

The fact Just Believe had come from a horror barrier, had no luck and was still travelling strongly when disaster struck had turned plenty of heads and changed almost as many minds.

To most European experts, Just Believe was a fascinating novelty and not really taken seriously in the world’s greatest trotting race.

But smirks and giggles turned into respect and a want to see more despite the Inter Dominion and Great Southern Star winner finishing tailed-out.

Leading journalists and form experts from around Scandinavia, who descend on Solvalla every May for the Elitlopp, were lavish in their praise for our top trotter.

“Elitloppet is the hardest race in the world and he didn’t embarrass himself at all,” said one Norwegian scribe. “He showed he’s good enough to race here and if I was the owners, I’d give him two, three or four more runs here.”

Leading Swedish form expert Dennis Englebo added: “I understand they (Greg Sugars and Jess Tubbs) are feeling down, but to me it showed he was competing really well.

“Everyone saw he was a really good horse, but unfortunately it didn’t show in his placing. I hope he stays. They have an option to fly home in mid-July and I hope they do, so they can stay for a few more races.”

Understandably, it took Sugars a while for the disappointment and feeling of what might have been, but he saw the silver lining once it did.

“The only positive is that he showed he was up to the task, but unfortunately it didn’t work out today,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s a game of inches and today those inches were against us.”

Excitingly, Just Believe will race again, at least once, before returning home.

Sugars confirmed as much, but just where and when is the bigger question.

“The two Swedish tracks have shown interest as did the Oslo (Norway) people tonight, while the Finland club invited us to their Group 1 race, too,” he said.

The bigger picture is the credibility Just Believe gained for himself and, more broadly, Down Under trotting.

“That’s a real positive to take out of it, that our Southern Hemisphere horses aren’t that far behind these Europeans anymore,” Sugars said. “And, hopefully, as breeds continue to improve and trainers become smarter and better with trotters, that we will be able to come back as Australians and Kiwis and compete at the highest level, which is incredible.”

It wasn’t the fairy tale result we all hoped for, but it was still a “win” on so many levels.

‘Harry’ did us proud, turned some heads and will get another chance, maybe in the Group 1 Oslo Grand Prix in two weeks, to fight another day.