The epic, growing legacy of Montrell Teague

The growing legacy of Montrell Teague

July 12, 2019

Add a 1:46 world record-equalling mile to the growing resume of 28-year-old driver Montrell Teague who already has won a stack of stakes and has been victorious in two of the greatest miles in harness racing history.

by Dave Briggs

The Meadowlands teletimer is still smoldering; the social media views of the replay are still climbing and driver Montrell Teague is wise beyond his 28 years about what it means to chisel his place into harness racing history.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Teague about becoming only the second person, after David Miller, to ever turn a mile behind a standardbred in one minute and forty six seconds.

It is four days after Lather Up equalled Always B Miki’s epic world record set in 2016 and Teague said he’s now watched the replay (available here) from last Saturday (July 6), “a bunch of times now” because people keep tagging his name in replays posted on Facebook.

“Once I see my name right beside it and they tag me with congratulations, then I might as well just watch it again,” Teague said, laughing. “It’s something that rarely happens, so you watch it as many times as you can. It doesn’t get old.”

Teague, who already has a Little Brown Jug, Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup, Canadian Pacing Derby and more on his shelf, said he’s also blessed to be part of two of the greatest miles in harness racing history.

In September of 2015, Teague steered Wiggle It Jiggleit to an epic triumph in the 2015 Little Brown Jug that has been widely heralded as one of the greatest races of all time (available here) Nearly four years later, Teague said he was still trying to “take it all in” after Lather Up won the $250,000 Graduate final for 4-year-old pacers in jaw-dropping fashion. It is the fastest mile ever recorded at the Big M.

“I didn’t expect to go in :46 that late in the night and on that kind of track, but everything happened for a reason and it worked out perfectly,” he said.

Still, the Delaware native said his first thought when he saw the teletimer was disbelief.

“You usually expect a :46 mile from the perfect storm, a Red Mile, early in the day, no wind, hot out, absolutely perfect conditions. You don’t expect that from the second-to-last race at the Meadowlands when it’s 10:30 at night and 65 to 70 degrees out.

“It just puts into perspective how great of a mile that really was.”

And how great a horse Lather Up is.

“Exactly,” Teague said. “He definitely kicked in when he was supposed to. We always knew that was his kind of trip.
Anatomy of a world record

The night had already proven to be a fast one by the time the 10th race rolled around. Hayden Hanover posted a 1:47.3 mile in the first race in a slight rain shower. Then, in race six, 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta won her $250,000 Graduate final with a 1:49.1 mile that is the fastest by a trotting mare in history and the fastest trotting mile or any kind at the Meadowlands.

“I was talking to Always A Prince’s trainer and we were about to warm up together and Atlanta just came off the track and I asked him, ‘How fast do you think we’re going to go?’ He said, ‘:47’. I agreed :47, but we went in :46,” Teague said.

Looking at the program before the race, Teague said he thought Always A Prince, driven by Brian Sears, would go to the front, but there would be at least three or four other horses that would also leave.

“Jimmy Freight usually never takes back, so I thought he was going to be in the hunt up close, but it worked out perfectly that everyone just floated and didn’t stay out there and waited for everybody to settle,” Teague said, adding that he wasn’t expecting to get a two-hole trip, but is glad it worked out that way.

“The first quarter, Always A Prince (driven by Brian Sears) was going on a little bit and I just popped out to see if he wanted to follow me or not, trying to keep the fractions honest,” Teague said. “Right when I popped out he went on and so I just sat there and made sure that I was on Brian Sears’ right shoulder just so I didn’t get locked in or any bad thing happen. The last thing that I remember was seeing :52 to the half. At the three-quarter pole I wasn’t even looking at it, actually… just because I was making sure that nobody was coming to my side and I wasn’t going to get locked in. I made sure that I was getting around Brian Sears’ wheel all right with my legs… The three quarter pole, I was just in game mode.”

Teague said the sensation of going a mile in 1:46 wasn’t that much different than the :48 or :49 miles Later Up has put up before, but he knew they were flying just based on how game Always A Prince was in front.

“Just seeing Brian Sears letting (Always A Prince) roll and not taking a hold of him and letting him go his own fractions, trying to get away from the field that night, I did actually feel like we were going pretty fast when nobody could collar Always A Prince or get near him. They couldn’t even get to the two-hole where I was, so I knew we were moving.”

Teague said going in 1:46 is “just flying,” but also much more than that.

“There’s only two horses that can (put their) name to a world record like that, so it’s very prestigious,” he said.

He celebrated in the paddock with trainer Clyde Francis and then when he was getting into his car to drive home, Teague called his father, George Teague, Jr., the head of the stable in Harrington, DE where Lather Up is based.

“He was very proud, but I think I was a little bit more excited than he was,” Montrell said. “He said, ‘Oh, I figured he could do it.’ He wasn’t too surprised, as much as I was.

“Dad has said (Lather Up) could go in :46, but we’ve only seen it one time with Always B Miki… But usually when he’s said something, he’s on the money. He’s got to where he can tell a horse is going to be good before they even show a mile that’s actually relevant to being a good horse.”

Lather Up, a homebred son of Im Gorgeous out of the In The Pocket mare Pocket Comb owned by Gary and Barbara Illes of Harrington, DE, has now earned nearly $1.2 million in his career with 20 victories in 33 starts, including the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup in 2018.

Montrell said it’s a huge plus that the victory was a family one.

“I get to celebrate with my dad, my mom, Gary Illes – he lives right down the street and comes to the barn every day – so it’s not like I don’t get to see the owners, trainers… I get to celebrate with them and we get to say congratulations to each other. It’s a lot better like that, when you get to see these people every day.

“I’m just grateful that I got the opportunity to sit behind two of the greatest horses in history. Wiggle It Jiggleit, he put on monstrous miles on every single sized track and he’s definitely the people’s horse. Everybody talks about him still, and they can’t believe how good he was. And now Lather Up, he’s taken the reins of Wiggle It Jiggleit’s role of being the greatest horse that I’ve been partnered up with. Going :46, now everybody is talking about that. It feels good to be in the news.”

Eleven years into his career, Montrell has won more than 1,400 races and collected purse earnings of nearly $22 million. As for doing all that long before his 30th birthday, Montrell said he’s simply blessed and grateful.

“I’ve got a Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup, Little Brown Jug… all the high points that every driver wants to win,” he said. “I’ve completed that now and got it off my bucket list. I’m definitely grateful and I can only look into the future and hope that I get more.”

Getting more could come as early as this Saturday. Lather Up is in to go in the $423,000 William Haughton (contested over 1 1/8 miles) right back at the Meadowlands a week after Montrell Teague and Lather Up made history there.

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