A brilliant trotter who has been lauded as a “once-in-a-lifetime” talent has made a believer of a previously sceptical international fraternity.
Just Believe's whirlwind 2023 has not only taken his connections on a wild ride but has rewritten perceptions of the sport in Victoria.
Anders Malmrot, sports general of Solvalla raceway that is home to Sweden's famed Elitloppet, says Europe is just wild about the horse known as "Harry". "Harry has set Australia on the trotting map here in Sweden and he has a big number of fans who follow him every race," Malmrot said.
The world is watching after Just Believe transformed a breakout last Australian summer, which included a Great Southern Star win amid an outstanding Aurora Australis series, into a stunning European campaign. While his primary goal, the Elitloppet, did not go as planned, consecutive eye-catching placings against Europe's elite mid-year were transformative for the sport.
To then return to Australia and dominate December's trotting Inter Dominion in Brisbane reaffirmed, as Malmrot declared, he has only improved, setting him up for another super Victorian summer. "After seeing him in his comeback races, I would say he seems even stronger and faster than before, and we hope for the best so maybe we can see him again in the Elitlopp," Malmrot said.
Whether trainer Jess Tubbs, driver Greg Sugars and Just Believe's lessees – Iona Trotting Syndicate – brave another European adventure remains to be seen, but what is known is how he has transformed the Victoria's trotting reputation.
Few gain greater satisfaction than Pat Driscoll, owner of Yabby Dam Farms, which has worked tirelessly to internationalise Australia's trotting breed and paired French sire Orlando Vici with US dam Heavens Above to produce Just Believe.
"Suddenly you have a horse who has obviously got great ability, but he has had the right care all the way through," Driscoll said.
"You're seeing a world class animal, which is fantastic. He's made everyone believe that Australian trotting can compete on the world stage. And I don't think people had thought too much about that." And, most dauntingly, he noted "he's gone to another level since he's got back".
It is music to the ears of Dakoda Wilden, a member of the Iona Trotting Syndicate. Wilden fell in love with Just Believe while working with his initial trainer Michael Hughes, and when the horse changed hands to Tubbs she jumped at the chance to take a syndicate share. "He's my best friend," she said. "I have had a very special spot in my heart for him since day one.
"No matter how much money or races he's won, it's always been him. "He has a massive personality. He is so determined, even at the races he stands so tall, he has so much grunt about him." And he has a big few months ahead.
"We have the Great Southern Star in early February. After that, we have a few options," Wilden said. "New Zealand and Sweden are on the table, but it will be up to what Greg and Jess think is best for the horse. I don't want to speak so soon, but I think he's only starting."
Just Believe will make his return to the track in Saturday nights' Knight Pistol at Ballarat. The run will be the trotters first since last year's Inter Dominion final dominance.