Growing Pains

October 10, 2016

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Despite repeated attempts to attract the very best trotters from around the world, this year’s International Trot at Yonkers is lacking star power.

by Tom Pedulla

When Yonkers Raceway officials decided to revive the International Trot in 2015 after a 20-year absence, they intended to bring together a star-studded field worthy of the $1 million purse they offered. But as they look to the second edition of the once-prestigious race since it returned, clearly much work must be done to eventually achieve that goal.

The 10-horse field assembled for next Saturday’s mile-and-a-quarter contest hardly represents a “Who’s Who” of the trotting world. Conspicuous in their absence are Elitlopp winner Nuncio of Sweden and French stars Bold Eagle and Timoko. Bold Eagle took the Prix d’Amerique while Timoko was pointed in a different direction despite a valiant runner-up finish to Norway’s Papagayo E. last year.

“It’s very difficult to get horses out of Europe,” said Steve Starr, the racing secretary at Yonkers. “It’s not as easy as people think it is.”

For whatever reason, money is not talking as loudly as many might have thought it would. With Papagayo E. unable to defend his title due to an injured suspensory ligament, fourth-place finisher Oasis Bi of Italy and seventh-place On Track Piraten of Sweden are the only returning starters. Another setback occurred when Yonkers, which has developed a strong relationship with France as a simulcasting partner, was unable to recruit any horse from that market.

“We tried to get at least half a dozen without success,” Starr said. He worked closely with Klaus Koch, a multi-lingual agent currently based in Germany. Koch has an array of connections abroad.

Starr is convinced France will be well-represented in years to come.

“This was just a fluke that we weren’t able to get a French horse,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything we have to worry about in the future.”

Seven countries will be featured among the 10 starters. The United States has the largest contingent, comprised of Hannelore Hanover, the only mare that will take on the boys in the mile-and-a-quarter contest, the highly-regarded Resolve, and Obrigado, a late addition after Ringostarr Treb of Italy was withdrawn.

Sweden will have two starters go to the gate, the aforementioned On Track Piraten and Explosive de Vie. Flanagan Memory of Canada, Tano Bork of Denmark, Jonesy of Finland, Oasis Bi of Italy and B.B.S. Sugarlight of Norway complete the field. Italians may not be all that passionate about Oasis Bi, an accomplished eight-year-old that boasts $1,544,094 in earnings. While he was bred in Italy, he was sold to Swedish connections as a yearling.

Hannelore Hanover will likely provide the most compelling storyline for U.S. fans as she attempts to defeat males in her first race at a half-mile track. An Indiana-bred that was purchased for $32,000, she is winding down a brilliant four-year-old season in which she has swept 14 of 16 starts with a pair of second-place finishes. She has failed to crack the top three just twice in 38 career starts while earning $1,201,685.

Mares have done remarkably well in the 37-year history of the International, first held at Roosevelt Raceway in 1959. Eight mares have combined for 11 victories.

Resolve, though, appears to be the strongest U.S. contender. He tops the field with $1,610,638 in earnings. The five-year-old son of Muscle Hill owns a high-profile victory over Hannelore Hanover, having defeated her in the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk.

When Fredrik Solberg, the trainer of B.B.S. Sugarlight, was asked the contender he fears most, he immediately replied, “Resolve. He has a very, very good trainer and he is a good horse.” Ake Svanstedt trains Resolve and will drive him.

Solberg said of the competition, “It may be easier than last year, but there are very good horses.

Starting position will be very important.” B.B.S. Sugarlight showed his ability when he defeated Papagayo E. in April. A seven-year-old gelding, he has won 22 of 81 starts with 15 second-places finishes while banking $913,689.

Oasis Bi, third behind Bold Eagle and Timoko in the Prix d’Amerique, also should be formidable. Stefan Pettersson said he knew he wanted to take another crack at the International as soon as last year’s experience was over.

“We had a fantastic time,” he said of the time he spent in New York City. “We saw things we were never going to see.”

It helps, too, that Oasis Bi possesses a great mind to go with his trotting ability.

“I have a horse who can do anything,” Pettersson said. “He’s not nervous.”

He said he was able to resume training with Oasis Bi one week after they returned home from last year’s International. He also noted, however, that the heavy travel can take a toll on certain horses, making trainers reluctant to ship in for the International.

“Some of them are afraid to take their horses on this trip,” Pettersson said.

Perhaps for that reason, some of the foreign imports this year lack great credentials for a race that once attracted the best of the best. Jonesy has a relatively modest 10 victories in 45 starts. Explosive de Vie is eight-for-49. Tano Bork is a six-year-old gelding with $219,518 in career earnings.

Then again, the revival of the International remains in its early stages.

“There is no way to go but up,” Starr said. “I think that will happen. It may take five to seven years, but it’s definitely going to reach up to the skies.”

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