By Bill Finley
Photo: The happy connections of Jugette winner Sassa Hanover (Brad Conrad)
DELAWARE, OH – Trainer Ron Burke admitted he wasn’t sure what the best strategy was for Sassa Hanover entering yesterday’s finals of the Jugette. All afternoon, speed had been coming up short at Delaware and Sassa Hanover had won her Jugette elim closing from last.
It was driver Matt Kakaley who made the final call. At Delaware, if you draw the rail in a big race you go. End of story.
“I wasn’t as confident as you might think I’d be because no one really wanted to cut it,” said Burke, who won both elims, the other with Bettor N Better. “I give Matt the credit because he said, ‘I’ll cut it.’ I think there had been ten favorites in a row beaten on the front end here, but he said ‘I’ll take my shot. If I can her to the half easy, I’ll get her home from there.’ That shows signs of maturation as a driver and a belief in himself to make horses go in big spots.”
So not only is Sassa Hanover good, she can win in a multitude of ways.
The daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven led every step of the way to win the Jugette final in a cakewalk. She won by two lengths over another Burke-trainee, Southwind Roulette, in the time of 1:51.1. Her combined time for the two heats was 3:42, a world-record for a 3-year-old pacing filly.
Burke could not have found himself in a better position coming into the final as he had three horses and they had the three inside posts.
With Yannick Gingras driving, Bettor N Better won the first of two elims over stablemate Southwind Roulette. Sassa Hanover was an upset winner of the second elim, paying $19.20. The favorite was still another Burke-trainee, Band Of Angels. She finished fifth and did not make the final.
The only question in the final appeared to be which filly would Burke win with?
Kakaley took care of business and went right to the front, going the first quarter in 26.4 and then slowing the pace down so that he got a 56 half and a 29.1 second quarter.
“I thought if I could give her a breather at some point she could get the job done,” said Kakaley. “I figured I would just let her roll off the car and as long as there was a breather somewhere we were going to win.”
Bettor N Better came after her as Gingras decided to come first over. Her challenge was short lived as she ran out of gas on the final turn. From there, it was all over as no one challenged Sassa Hanover late.
Sassa Hanover has had an up-and-down year, but Burke thinks a change in tactics has helped her turn the corner.
“We have a different mind-set now, to be more aggressive with her and make her train harder,” he said. “We were so worried that she would get hot and that we had to control her we had her to point where she was almost slumbering around the racetrack. So we came here and decided to train her hard, make her aggressive, and she’s either going to race good or then we’ll come up with a new plan. Maybe she’s just been waiting for us to do this.”
It was the third Jugette win for the Burke stable. Ron Burke won the race in 2012 with Darena Hanover and his father, Mickey, won it with Western Graduate in 2007.