The French trotter pulled off a massive surprise — and survived a judges’ inquiry — Sunday on a rain-soaked card at Solvalla.
by Thomas Hedlund
French trotter Dijon posted a huge upset in Sunday’s rain-soaked Elitloppet at Solvalla, yet the stunning victory was somewhat anti-climactic given what happened before the final and during the stretch when the judges took a hard look at whether the trotter started pacing just before the wire. Ultimately, the results stood, but more on that in a second.
In the first of two eliminations, Readly Express (Ready Cash) started from post seven and driver Björn Goop didn’t leave anything to chance with trainer Timo Nurmos’ trotter. Readly Express took the first turn three wide, but when the field got close to the first stretch, Goop put his horse in front, ahead of earlier leader Makethemark. Once leading the pack, Readly Express controlled the field and won in 1:53.
Makethemark, Looking Superb and Next Direction finished behind the superior winner and all qualified for the final.
French-bred Aubrion du Gers (Memphis du Rib) and driver Jos Verbeeck easily kept their opponents on the outside from post one in the second elimination and when Propulsion seemed to have one of his less impressive days at the track, Aubrion du Gers sprinted to the safe win in 1:53 ahead of Propulsion, Dijon and Milliondollarrhyme.
But the big drama started to happen directly after the first elimination. Readly Express’ caretaker Inga Perk took the reins from Goop in the winner’s circle and it was obvious that Readly Express had suffered an injury. In the post parade for the Elitloppet final, it was even more obvious that something wasn’t right with one of the biggest Swedish hopes in Sweden’s biggest race.
The veterinarian ordered Goop to let Readly Express make another test start in front of judges and it didn’t look good at all. The decision, made with Goop, was inevitable. Readly Express was scratched out of the final in what was billed before the weekend as his final career start.
The emotions were all over the place among the spectators at Solvalla when Goop let Readly Express wave his goodbye in front of the crowd. Many tears fell and Readly Express left the track to the sound of enormous cheering. He won his last race, but it wasn’t the race his connections hoped to win.
”I’m really sad, but I’m pretty sure that I took the right decision to not letting him start in the final. Readly Express is a champion and he should end his career like a champion, with a win,” Goop said in a national television interview.
The Elitloppet final now placed Aubrion du Gers (post one) in the favorite position for Verbeeck.
When Readly Express was scratched, quick-starting trotter Dijon (Ganymede) moved to the number four spot behind the gate and his driver Romain Derieux wasn’t shy when the car left the field of seven horses. Dijon flew to the front, while Next Direction was parked outside with Propulsion in his back. Aubrion du Gers and Verbeeck was stuck in the pocket, but when Örjan Kihlström made his move with Propulsion after a quarter of a mile, Verbeeck also made a move, a more desperate one that lifted Aubrion du Gers behind Propulsion. That move made Next Direction go three wide and the Finnish horse got third- instead of second-over.
Dijon looked sharp in front, while Propulsion had problems following in the last turn, at the same point when Aubrion du Gers attacked three wide and the leader, Dijon, was first to hit the wire for Derieux.
But the drama wasn’t over. The judges at Solvalla had to look closely at the home stretch video to make sure that Dijon’s gait didn’t slip into the pace during the last 50 meters of the race. The judges took their time to study Dijon’s last moves. And they also had to look at an incident with Aubrion du Gers, where he appeared to interfere with Next Direction after 500 meters of the final.
Eventually, the speaker announced the official result of Elitloppet 2019 and the French fans cheered when Dijon won and Aubrion du Gers finished second.
The mile time of 1:53.1 was enough to earn the Elitloppet on the sloppy track this time and Derieux was obviously a happy trainer and driver when he at last reached the winner’s circle.
”It’s the first time we tried this particular race and who could imagine that we would be as successful like this? It’s a really big thing to be in the Elitlopp and to win it is just amazing,” said Derieux.
Petri Salmela’s Makethemark ended up third in his first attempt in the Elitloppet after a trip behind the leader.
Riordan trainee wins Breeders Course final
The $209,000 Hakan Wallner Memorial / Breeders Course final for 3-year-olds was a thrilling story at Solvalla. Three big names fought and battled for the win, when a fourth horse showed up from out of nowhere and won in mile rate of 1:55.3 over 1.3 miles.
Jerry Riordan-trained Aetos Kronos (Bold Eagle) and driver Johan Untersteiner waited deep down in the field while Upset Face and Axl Rose were in war regarding front position pretty much the whole race. Upset Face defended himself strongly when Alessandro Gocciadoro put hard pressure on the leader and behind the two favorites, Gocciadoro’s Acciaio got a perfect trip for Örjan Kihlström.
In the last turn, Aetos Kronos attacked and Untersteiner made the victory pretty safe in world record time of 1:55.3 (over 1.3 miles on a five-eighths mile track).
”Our luck was that Upset Face and Axl Rose would both fight for the lead and that’s how it ended. This horse has a heart of gold,” said Untersteiner.
Missle Hill in Fyraåringseliten
American-bred Missle Hill (Muscle Hill) made his second start in Europe in the $105,000 Fyraåringseliten for 4-year-olds and the Daniel Redén-trained trotter opened quickly from post one. But Örjan Kihlström decided to give the lead over to Evaluate and Stefan Melander.
Missle Hill got his chance to challenge Evaluate in the beginning of the home stretch and Örjan Kihlström had plenty of power to use in his horse. Missle Hill ran past the leader in nice gait and won in 1:54.1.
”Daniel has talked about this horse in good terms and it will be very interesting to follow his career here in Sweden,” said Kihlström.