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    Is Poppy’s comeback an omen for Tribeca? Is Poppy’s comeback an omen for Tribeca?

    POPULAR ALM after winning the Italian Cup at his return to racing

    CONNECTIONS of top pacer Soho Tribeca hope Saturday night’s feature at Tabcorp Park Melton can provide the kind of comeback result it did a... Is Poppy’s comeback an omen for Tribeca?

    CONNECTIONS of top pacer Soho Tribeca hope Saturday night’s feature at Tabcorp Park Melton can provide the kind of comeback result it did a former champion more than three decades ago.

    Suffering a career-threatening injury while being campaigned in Queensland, Soho Tribeca’s first-up assignment is the time honoured Italian Cup – which also marked the racing return for Popular Alm in 1984.

    While Soho Tribeca, which is a multiple Group One winner, isn’t held in the same esteem as Popular Alm, the similarities between the two could prove an omen for trainer Michael Stanley.

    Popular Alm suffered a break in his leg, while Soho Tribeca fractured his leg, with both requiring surgery to insert screws before undergoing extensive rehabilitation.

    Like Poppy, Soho Tribeca’s return in the Cup ends an 11-month stint on the sidelines!

    “His legs are holding up perfectly,” Stanley said. “He’s had a lot of miles put into them and is ready to go.

    “It’s never easy first-up in this grade, but with his class he can go there and win still.”

    Although drawn barrier seven, Soho Tribeca slots into six – same draw as Popular Alm – as a result of a scratching!

    “There’s only ever been one Popular Alm, but I’m more than happy to go with the comparisons in their injuries and returns, especially if Soho Tribeca can also make a winning comeback,” Stanley said.

    As for Popular Alm’s tale, he broke his pastern in a track work accident a week after his Winfield Cup triumph at Moonee Valley for the late Bob and Vin Knight.

    “He was pacing along nicely then all of a sudden he dipped and galloped then he just stood there with his leg in the air. I could see he was in a lot of pain,” Vin said.

    Scans discovered the pastern had been split in two, meaning the injury was worse than first thought.

    Two compression screws were inserted across the fractured off-hind pastern, and the leg encased in a plaster cast to the hock for six weeks.

    Despite a five-hour operation, there was no guarantee the stallion would race again.

    After a six-month spell, the eight-year-old was put back into work, with the Knights growing increasingly confident Popular Alm would complete a comeback.

    To the delight of the adoring public, Popular Alm won a trial at Kilmore on October 11, with the Italian Cup at the Valley earmarked as his racing return.

    “He was never going flat out at any stage and he’s still quite fat. We’re thrilled with the way he went,” Vin said after the trial.

    Back at the track he had made his own, Australia’s greatest pacer gave the fans just what they wanted, a scintillating first-up victory.

    His popularity and drawing power was illustrated that night with a crowd of 13,199 in attendance – almost double the season’s average!

    A deafening roar erupted as the excitement embraced everyone when Vin and Popular Alm began quickly to lead.

    With the crowd cheering his every stride, Popular Alm proved he still had a scintillating dash when he broke 25 metres clear of the field leaving the back straight.

    Although his lack of fitness began to show during the latter stages, the superstar was untouched to account for Barts Gamble and Black Armbro in 2:00.4 for the 2400 metres.

    Knight described the moment as one of the highlights of his career.

    “I’d have to rate my first Kilmore Cup win on him and the night he went 1:55.9 at Harold Park as my biggest thrills, but this would equal them,” Vin declared.

    “He felt sensational and just wanted to bolt and I couldn’t believe it down the back straight. I started laughing. I thought ‘How easy is he going?’ I couldn’t hold him any slower.”

    To connections’ dismay, Popular Alm’s comeback was short lived.

    Successful at the Valley two weeks later, the son of Sovereign Adios pulled up sore from track work five days later.

    The problem was not in the hind leg he broke a year earlier, but in the off-side foreleg.

    The trouble appeared to be in the area of the suspensory ligament, which indicated Poppy could have been trying to ‘save’ the leg he injured originally, thereby putting additional stress on the one now giving trouble.

    A week later Bob announced Popular Alm’s problem with the injured foreleg was over and the champion would be back in work within a few days, with the hope of making the Miracle Mile.

    After suffering several setbacks during the next few weeks, Popular Alm was officially retired with a record of 49 wins and 10 placings from 62 starts and the title as the greatest pacer produced in the Southern Hemisphere.

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    Paul Courts

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