Sophomores come out with guns blazing

by Brett Sturman

If you blinked, you may have missed that this year’s stakes season has gone from 0 to 60 in about two weeks.

Some of the best horses from last season’s 2-year-old group are still making their way back to the track for their upcoming year, but already there have been a number of rising stars that have given many of the top contenders in their divisions something to think about.

Without question, the story of the early stakes season thus far has been the filly trotter, Atlanta. Trained by Rick Zeron, the daughter of Chapter Seven—Hemi Blue Chip has been nothing less than monstrous in her three starts this year. In her most recent race this past Memorial Day from Vernon, she trotted her winning mile in 1:50:3.

In doing so, she became the third fastest filly trotter in the history of the sport only a tick off Mission Brief and Cee Bee Yes. In fact, the only male horses ahead of her include Donato Hanover, Muscle Hill, Father Patrick, Tom Ridge and Walner. That’s some rarified company to be in. None of those horses ever accomplished a time that fast while still in the month of May.

What’s most impressive is that if her and the 2-year-old champion Manchego raced today, Atlanta would most likely be favored. Of all the rivalries to look forward to this year, an Atlanta-Manchego showdown would be most highly anticipated one right now.

Outside of those two filly trotters, the only other 3-year-old that appears on the first Hambletonian/USTA Top Ten poll of the year is Trump Nation.

Trump Nation exits a fast 1:51:3 in the Rooney at Yonkers last week where he humbled the heavily-backed Allard entrant, Springsteen. The win for Trump Nation came on the heels of a barn change from Andrew Harris to Chris Oakes, and this one improved two full seconds from his elimination win a week prior. In his new surroundings, he could be a force throughout the season.

As expected, the 3-year-old pacing group coming out of PA is unbelievably strong. The top 2-year-olds last year Lost In Time and Stay Hungry debuted for the season two weeks ago in a PASS race at Pocono along with standouts Nutcracker Sweet and Hayden Hanover, but all were defeated by a colt named Wes Delight. Now 4-for-5 on the year, Wes Delight followed up that PASS win with a win earlier this week against another star from last year, This Is The Plan.

On that same card from Monday, Done Well returned from a season-ending injury last year for Brian Brown to beat I’m A Big Deal in a PA All Star race to remain unbeaten in his career in five starts. Winning the remaining All Star division that night was Dorsoduro Hanover who was equally impressive in 1:50:3 over top competition; both him and Done Well are North American Cup eligible.

Moving to New York, Vernon’s Memorial Day card produced some exceptionally fast times all day. Included in the 1:50:3 Atlanta clocking was a 1:51:2 on the colt side of the Empire Breeders Classic won by Six Pack. Though knocking on the door of the top 10 in the current USTA poll, it’s hard to gauge where Six Pack will stand once the majority of last year’s colt trotters make their way back onto the track.

But it could be horses from two of the NYSS divisions that day for pacers that produces horses worth watching in the upcoming North America Cup. Courtly Choice was a 1:48:4 winner that day for trainer Blake Macintosh and that time makes him the fastest 3-year-old right now in the sport. A perfect 2-for-2 on the year, he is Cup eligible as is American History who won the race immediately afterwards in 1:49:1 for trainer Tony Alagna.

As the 3-year-old pacing picture begins to take shape, one to watch could be the I’m Gorgeous colt Lather Up. Trained by Clyde Francis and driven by Montrell Teague this one has been instilled as the 4-5 favorite in his division of the Somebeachsomewhere at Woodbine Mohawk this Saturday. He’ll get tested perhaps, but comes off a 7-length romp most recently in 1:49:1 when debuting locally in Canada.

Last year’s Breeders Crown runner-up Shnitzledosomethin made a successful return to the races last week in Indiana-sired competition and races there again this weekend. Another that is Cup eligible, he could be an underrated type coming out of the Midwest.

If the introduction this past month to stakes season is any indication of things to come, we should be in for a wild ride between now and the fall Breeders Crown.
Battle of Lake Erie preview

Rockin Ron comes off a track record performance in the freshly-coined Camluck Classic at Western Fair last week and will be the heaviest of favorites to come right back and win the Battle of Lake Erie. He set a track record in that race when he won in 1:50:1 over the historically slow track and with no one in the vicinity of him that night, can anyone get close now?

Missile J hasn’t started since April 21 although he had some success in the Levy at Yonkers and lands the best post of any realistic contender. Bit Of A Legend N couldn’t get close to Rockin Ron at Western Fair and you wonder what the strategy will be now. Does Stratton have anything to lose by leaving with his horse that typically closes? All Bets Off is another that hasn’t race since 4/21 and the iron tough horse now has something to prove again.

This isn’t the best race for betting purposes as Rockin Ron should be able to secure an easy lead with a completely overmatched horse starting to his inside. It could be over from the start, and I’d include Missile J for second to complete a short priced exacta.

Foiled Again watch

Foiled Again is no stranger to the Battle of Lake Erie wars and it would be fitting if he picked up career win #100 on the undercard.

Racing in a N/W $3,500 conditioned event carded as race 8, he makes his second start back following an acclimating effort last out at the Meadowlands. This is a monster drop following that race won by Blood Line and driver Kakaley fresh back from injury gets the call to try to steer the milestone win.

The main threat could come from Alpin Hanover who has been putting up some relatively fast miles on paper here at Northfield of late. The $20,000 claimer is capable of speed and is going right to the front for Merriman; we’ll see if he wants to mix it up with all with Foiled Again. Man He Can Skoot used to be pretty fast and does come off a win from post 8, but it came in 1:55:2 in the off-going with a final quarter of just :30:2.

Even with the bad post, this should be the spot where we see Foiled Again pick up win number 100.