Captain Crunch held off rival Bettors Wish in the Cane Pace, Shartin N set a world record and Manchego won the Steele Memorial.
by Melissa Keith, with notes from Dave Briggs
The Hambletonian Day undercard was anything but underwhelming, particularly in the last three Grand Circuit races on the card, and particularly for trainer Nancy Johansson.
In the Cane Pace, first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown, a face-off between North America Cup title-holder #6 Captain Crunch (Scott Zeron) and Meadowlands Pace/North America Cup place-finisher #4 Bettors Wish (Dexter Dunn) shaped up even before the start, with the co-favorites both 4-5 at post time. The race itself did not disappoint, giving punters the anticipated showdown in race 15.
Dubbed the “Battle of the Titans” by Meadowlands simulcast co-host Dave Little, the $285,362 Cane featured seven colts and geldings after the scratch of #7 Hurrikane Emperor (sick). #3 Escapetothebeach (Andy McCarthy) broke at the start, while #1 Semi Tough attempted to grab the early lead for Matt Kakaley, but Bettors Wish powered around him to take over by the backside; rival Captain Crunch was about a length and a half back in second. The :26.2 opening quarter was a single-file procession with the co-favorites one-two up front, Semi Tough keeping pace in third. Bettors Wish maintained control to the :54.4 half, still a length and a half the better of Captain Crunch at the 1:22 flat three-quarters. Exiting the garden spot in the stretch, Zeron’s colt hunted down the pacesetter, just catching Bettors Wish at the photo finish. The winning margin was a neck in the impressive 1:48 flat comeback performance by the Nancy Johansson trainee, who last finished fourth in the Meadowlands Pace on July 13.
Captain Crunch currently leads all North American sophomore pacers by earnings ($651,402 in 2019) and record (p, 3, 1:47.2m). The first-crop Captaintreacherous colt is out of the Artsplace mare Sweet Paprika and owned by a group consisting of 3 Brothers Stables, New York, NY; Christina Takter, East Windsor, NJ; Rojan Stables, Wilmington, DE; and Caviart Farms, Vienna, VA. He was an $85,000 bargain at the 2017 Harrisburg Black Book Yearling Sale, sold under original name Captain Bean but renamed after the popular breakfast cereal by trainer Johansson’s daughter, Ella.
Sweet Paprika (p, 4, 1:51.1f; $211,189) has produced 10 foals to date, including Somebeachsomewhere geldings Moonliteonthebeach (p, 7, 1:50.4f; $519,102) and Sweet Beach (p, 5, 1:50.0f; $305,012). Last year, the Walnridge Farm and Sherri K. Meirs-owned broodmare foaled a full brother (Captain Fireball) to the newly-crowned 2019 Cane Pace winner.
Captain Crunch co-owner Christina Takter told HRU that the rivalry with the connections of Bettors Wish was a friendly one. “And they are my best friends,” she said of the Ryder family. “I said, ‘If you win, we have a party, and you have a party if I win.’”
Takter admitted that she feared her colt might not catch Bettors Wish in time to get the win (“Yes, I’m always in denial, but he did it. It was tough, but he did it.”), but added that she was ultimately delighted with Captain Crunch’s return to triumphant form: “Very nice, and, I mean, it was a little disappointing in the Meadowlands Pace. I guess he didn’t have his best day, that day, but it looks like he’s back. From now on…”
Trainer Johansson, winner of the Dan Patch Rising Star Award in 2014, told HRU she was feeling “a little bit” superstitious before the Cane Pace. “I actually had new (driving) colors on. I warmed up Panem and she ran in the Jim Doherty, and Dexter (Dunn) said she was really good and she just knuckled over,” she explained after Captain Crunch’s win. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m putting the colors I had on last night back on.’ And I did and it turned it right around.”
The reversal of fortune came courtesy of her top colt’s defining characteristic. “He’s just gritty,” said Johansson, who then outlined the Cane performance: “Just like Scott (Zeron) said, Bettors Wish is a nice horse and he was motoring at full tilt coming out of the turn, so it’s hard to make up any ground at that point, when they are going full speed, but he’s just so big and strong that he can just carry that speed for so long.”
After a recent two-week break, time off was not on the immediate horizon for Captain Crunch, although Johansson said she was still deciding his schedule. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with him now,” she mused, adding that the second leg of the Pacing Triple Crown was unlikely: “He’s not Messenger eligible. We’d have to supplement for that and I don’t really know if I want to put a big horse like him on a half-mile track, if I don’t really have to.” (The Messenger Stake eliminations are slated for Aug. 24 at Yonkers; the final is Aug. 31).
Instead, Johansson expressed curiosity about another Grand Circuit event for sophomore pacers, coming up Aug. 10 at Northfield Park: “I’m sure he’d get an invite for the (Carl) Milstein (Memorial Invitational), if I want to go there, but…”
Talking racing-campaign strategy on the spot, Captain Crunch’s conditioner finally landed on where the divisional leader might be entered next: “You know what? I’ll probably bring him up to Canada for the Simcoe. He also has Pennsylvania Sires Stakes final, too.” The Cane Pace was the fifth win in seven seasonal starts for the 2018 Dan Patch Two-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year, his 11th victory in a 17-race career.
Shartin N in world record time
The $183,500 Lady Liberty TVG Free For All Mares Pace, carded as race 14, was acknowledged by Meadowlands announcer Ken Warkentin as the most thrilling of the entire day. Overwhelming 1-5 favorite Shartin N (Tim Tetrick) attracted bridge-jumper action in the show pool in a title defense that would end with the reigning Dan Patch Pacing Mare of the Year crowned with a stunning new title.
#9 Apple Bottom Jeans (Corey Callahan) led briefly around the first turn, but the talented and famously headstrong Shartin N was unwilling to hold back any longer than necessary. She swept up and around the early leader, assuming control by the 26 flat first quarter, with #10 Kissin In The Sand (Dave Miller) in hot pursuit second over. Reaching the half in :53.4, Shartin N threw down a :27.4 second quarter, mildly pressured by the parked-out Kissin In The Sand. By the 1:21 flat three-quarters, that challenger had tailed off and closers #4 Youaremycandygirl, #6 Shower Play, #5 Don’t Think Twice A, and #8 Divas Image were all going wide to chase minor shares as Tetrick’s defending Lady Liberty champion—to quote Warkentin—“just took off like a shot.” #3 Caviart Ally (Andrew McCarthy), covered up and well-placed throughout the mile, shook loose late to finish second by three and a half lengths, ahead of Shower Play.
The 1:46.4 romp was a world record for female pacers, also equalling the fourth-fastest mile in history, a clocking shared by Somebeachsomewhere, Dr J Hanover, Holborn Hanover, Warrawee Needy, and Hes Watching.
The imported 6-year-old mare has recorded 38 victories in 50 lifetime starts, with earnings of $1,796,163, and only one loss in 13 starts this season. Sired by McArdle son Tintin In America (NZ), the 2019 Lady Liberty winner is out of the Live Or Die (NZ) mare Bagdarin (NZ); breeder Grant Crabbe also trained Bagdarin. Shartin N is the mare’s second foal.
The newest world champion was privately purchased at age three by Richard Poillucci. Her ownership group is now comprised of Poillucci, of North Easton, MA; Jo Ann Looney-King, Harrington, DE; and Tim Tetrick LLC, Woolwich Township, NJ. Jim King Jr. trains the superstar pacer, whose victory in the Tabcorp Rewards Pace on August 18, 2017 was her farewell Down Under performance prior to export.
“If there’s a freak out there, she’s it,” said driver/co-owner Tetrick after the masterful mile. “I don’t know how fast she can go — like, she wasn’t done there. I never untucked my whip. Right now, she’s so much fun to drive. She gets smarter and she’s just on her game, boy!”
Co-owner Looney-King was elated in the winners’ circle, praising caretaker Kate Moore and reflecting on her own humble background as a trainer/driver at The Meadowlands. “My first race that I won here was in 2:06 in the middle of February, with a 10 or 15 claimer!” she told interviewer Bob Heyden. “This is unbelievable that this has happened, to have this great mare.” She did not confirm rumours of an impending breeding of Shartin N to Lazarus N, although she quipped that she “had heard something about that.”
Manchego takes the Steele
Race 13 was the $186,000 Dr. John R. Steele Memorial TVG Mares Free For All Trot. The race’s 2016 winner #6 Hannelore Hanover (Yannick Gingras) was back, leaving hard alongside recent Swedish import #7 Darling Mearas S (Andy Miller), but #1 Manchego (Dexter Dunn) wasn’t giving up her advantageous post.
The 2018 Hambletonian Oaks winner surged to a :26 flat opening quarter, with 33-1 longshot #3 Top Expectations (Dan Dube) following in second before Gingras’ mare circled her to land the pocket position. The 4-5 favorite continued to roll for Dunn on the front end, reaching the half unchallenged in :55.2, a :29.2 breather of a second quarter. Darling Mearas S soon angled out from fourth to take on the leader, coming first over with #2 Ice Attraction (Andrew McCarthy) also in pursuit on the outside. Trotting alongside Manchego to the 1:23.1 the three-quarters, the Swedish mare gave ground slightly after the brisk :27.4 fraction, allowing Hannelore Hanover and a three-wide Custom Cantab to close at high speed in the stretch. Manchego kept a half-length between herself and place-finisher Hannelore Hanover at the wire, emerging victorious in 1:50 flat. Darling Mearas S was third.
Manchego’s (3, 1:50.0m; $1,694,385) victory was her second in a row at The Meadowlands and her 21st win of a 33-race career. The stake-record Steele effort matched the 4-year-old Muscle Hill daughter’s Hambletonian Oaks mark. Out of the Cantab Hall mare Secret Magic, Manchego was bred by George Segal’s Brittany Farms LLC of Kentucky, owned by Black Horse Racing of Lebanon, NJ, and trained by Nancy Johansson. Secret Magic (3, 1:54.4f; $198,260) was purchased by Hanover Shoe Farms this past spring. She has also produced In Secret (1:52.3f; $683,757) from three foals of racing age. Manchego was a $120,000 purchase at the 2016 Lexington Select Yearling Sale. She is closing in on the $2-Million earnings mark this season.
Dexter Dunn called the 2019 Steele champ “a lovely horse who hit her form last start” and who prefers to lead the way. “We had to move pretty hard early to the first quarter to put a couple away, so we could keep our position on the front end there,” he said. “She was travelling good around the (final) turn, and I could hear Yannick breathing down my neck so I just didn’t want to give him a run too early, but he ended up getting out and my mare kept great.” The formerly New Zealand-based reinsman was joined by his father, top New Zealand-based trainer Robert Dunn, for what the latter dubbed “the best day’s racing (he’s) ever experienced.” It was also his son’s first Hambletonian day as a driver.
The late Dr. John R. Steele was a veterinary specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of lameness, and a lover of trotters who regularly attended the Hambletonian.
Last year’s winner, Dream Together, qualified Tuesday at Mohawk Woodbine Park, winning in 1:58 flat for 2019 Hambletonian champ Forbidden Trade’s connections: owner Serge Godin’s Determination of Montreal, Quebec; trainer Luc Blais; and reinsman Bob McClure.