Always A Prince gunning to win Dan Patch on home turf

The reigning Indiana Pacer of the Year will take on such stars as Lather Up and McWicked tonight in the $330,000 Dan Patch Stakes at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.

by James Platz

Tonight Harrah’s Hoosier Park plays host to the Dan Patch Stakes, the signature event of the 2019 season. A stellar field of nine will assemble for the $330,000 event for free-for-all pacers, headlined by world record holder Lather Up and 2018 USHWA Horse of the Year McWicked. The Dan Patch was formerly a by-invitation-only contest, with the race secretary traditionally leaving a slot open for the top local horse. Now a paid-in stake, the event still will offer a local flavor with 2018 Indiana Pacer of the Year Always A Prince lining up behind the gate.

The Always A Virgin—Glorious Princess gelding has drawn the outside post position in tonight’s 11th race. Driver Trace Tetrick, his regular pilot when competing in Indiana, said the post is not ideal, but he will be prepared to take the fight to a tough group of open pacers.

“I wish he would have drawn better. The nine hole is not a very good starting spot, but that’s just what it is, a starting spot,” Tetrick said. “We will just have to see how it unfolds. There’s no way we can duck, I do know that. We have to be involved. The fact is if the horse is sitting ninth it is not going to do us any good.”

Always A Prince enters the Dan Patch off a qualifier last Saturday (Aug. 3) where the 4-year-old turned in a 1:52.1 effort for trainer Tyler George. The gelding had been given a break after his foray to the East Coast, where he represented his connections well while battling the best in the division. Tetrick remained in Indiana, but kept track of Always A Prince’s exploits. Owned by Carl and Melanie Atley, the speedster won a leg of the Graduate Series in a lifetime best 1:47.3 before finishing fourth in the $250,000 final. In that contest, Always A Prince cut the mile with fractions of :25.3, :52 and 1:19.1 before Lather Up pulled the pocket and went on to become the co-fastest horse in harness racing history with his 1:46 clocking at the wire. George’s charge recorded a 1:46.2 effort in defeat. In his last start at the Meadowlands, the Indiana star paced third in the $423,000 William R. Haughton Memorial.

“Before he went out there, he was racing really good. It’s tough. He did a lot of things right, but went up against some bearcats,” said Tetrick. “He never quit, he got beat, what, two or three lengths? He just got beat out of second late (in the Graduate). He’s just a phenomenal horse.”

Racing almost exclusively on his “home turf” of Hoosier Park last season, Always A Prince won 19 of 22 starts. He defeated favored Jimmy Freight to claim the Jenna’s Beach Boy in September, and was placed first by judges in the Monument Circle after winner Lather Up was disqualified. His experience over the Hoosier Park surface, particularly the long stretch, could prove a factor tonight. Always A Prince is third choice on the morning line at 6-1, trailing both 6-5 Lather Up and McWicked, at odds of 5-2.

In the 25 previous editions of the Dan Patch Stakes, no local interest has ever reached the winner’s circle. Perhaps tonight, Always A Prince can become the first. A victory in the Dan Patch would also be a first for Tetrick. Hoosier Park’s perennial leading driver has managed no better than third in the race, guiding Clear Vision to that finish in 2015.

Winning in this field will be a tall order. To his credit, Lather Up has become the 800-pound gorilla in the free-for-all division. After winning the Graduate final and matching Always B Miki’s 1:46 world record, the son of I’m Gorgeous—Pocket Comb scored a decisive victory in the Haughton before setting a world record on Hambletonian Day, dominating the field in the $230,200 Sam McKee Memorial, raced at a distance of one and one-eighth miles, in the jaw-dropping time of 1:59.2. Sweet Lou set Hoosier Park’s current track record of 1:47.2 on his way to winning the 2014 Dan Patch. Will that standard remain intact when the dust settles tonight?

Tetrick feels that, despite the outside post, Always A Prince will be in the mix tonight. Hopefully, with a little luck, the pair can make history.

“I think he’s going to be a top three or four horse in the race. Hopefully we can come out on top. With the nine hole it does put a little damper on our spirits, but if he has a little bit of luck he’ll be right there knocking on the door at the wire,” Tetrick added. “If you’re not in it you can’t win it, it’s the old saying. We’ve got a shot to win and just hope everything works out for us.”