Triple Crown second leg, times two at Yonkers

Gimpanzee takes Yonkers Trot; American Mercury hot in Messenger final.

by Melissa Keith

The second legs of the pacing and trotting Triple Crowns highlighted Yonkers Raceway’s 12-race Saturday night. New York Sires Stake performers brought their best to both Grand Circuit stakes for 3-year-olds.

The $500,000 Yonkers Trot final attracted a field of eight colts and geldings; no eliminations were required. Forbidden Trade was supplemented to the event when trainer Luc Blais and owner Serge Godin (Determination) of Montreal, QC observed how well the colt emerged from his Hambletonian victory and a subsequent (Aug. 12) Ontario Sires Stake (OSS) Gold win at Woodbine Mohawk Park. “It wasn’t in our original plan, but plans change,” said Blais in a Yonkers media release after last Monday’s draw. “We let him tell us what to do and he’s been training so well.” Forbidden Trade landed post #6 for his Yonkers debut, with regular reinsman Bob McClure slated to drive him in the second leg of the trotting Triple Crown. He accumulated 13 wins over 20 career starts leading up to Yonkers’ August 31 co-feature.

Gimpanzee, from post #4, posed the most formidable opposition to Forbidden Trade. Owned by Courant Inc. of Delray Beach, FL and S R F Stable of Lighthouse Point, FL, the Marcus Melander-trained colt entered the Yonkers Trot undefeated in all but two of his 15 lifetime starts — he was fourth in his Hambletonian elim and finished third in the final. A 1:55.1h NYSS romp at Batavia Downs on Aug. 24 cemented Gimpanzee’s credentials; his win margin was a decisive four-and-three-quarter lengths—not atypical among the Chapter Seven son’s 13 career wins.

The half-mile specialist was favored over the Hambletonian champ, perhaps on account of Forbidden Trade’s last start on a half: He was second to Only For Justice, three lengths back and timed in 1:57.1, in a May 19 OSS Gold event at Flamboro Downs.

In the Yonkers Trot final, longshot #3 Sheenas Boy (Andy Miller) took charge early, with #1 Osterc (George Brennan) jumping it off in second and being taken inside the pylons on the first turn. Taking no chances, Brian Sears sent Gimpanzee to the front with ease, establishing a length-and-a-half lead over Sheenas Boy by the 28 flat opening quarter. Demonstrating trademark cornering prowess, the 1-5 betting favourite stayed perfect as #2 Soul Strong (Dexter Dunn) went offstride in pursuit on the second turn. That left Gimpanzee leading by three open lengths over Sheenas Boy at the 56.4 half, which is when the Hambletonian champ came calling first over from fourth.

There would be no faceoff between Sears’ colt and McClure’s. Gimpanzee just kept adding lengths to his lead as the wire drew nearer, while Forbidden Trade (3, 1:51.0m; $1,032,728) had to circle a backpedalling Sheenas Boy around the 1:25 three-quarters, gaining but never getting within striking distance of Sears’ horse in the stretch. He closing gamely for second, Forbidden Trade was denied the Triple Crown’s second leg but joined the millionaires’ club, four-and-a-half lengths behind Gimpanzee. Soul Strong rebounded for third, six lengths back of the winner. Sheenas Boy finished fourth, but was set back to sixth for a breaking rule violation in the stretch; #8 No Drama Please (Jason Bartlett) was moved up to fourth via placing after an inquiry.

Matching the host venue’s 1:53.3h record for the Yonkers Trot (Windsongs Legacy won it in 1:53.1f at Hawthorne Racetrack in 2005), Gimpanzee (3, 1:52.4f; $1,145,996) proved flawless in the 65th edition. He went over the million-dollar career earnings mark with the victory, in which he rewrote the Yonkers divisional track record. Regular driver Sears praised the Dan Patch Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year and his team in the winner’s circle.

“The horse has done everything we asked all along. He’s just a pleasure to drive. He makes my job very easy. He was really on his toes tonight,” Sears told track publicity director Frank Drucker. “He was a perfect gentleman from day one and he continues to be that.”

Trainer Marcus Melander, Dan Patch Rising Star for 2018, said taking it relatively easy with Gimpanzee at age 2 has paid off handsomely. The divisional NYSS freshman champion colt “finished up in the Breeders Crown and we gave him some time off,” explained his conditioner post-race. “Today, he’s beaten some very good horses in here and he did it very easy.” On that remarkable cornering ability: “He just lays down on the turns like a motorcycle. He’s just an amazing horse. I don’t think there’s a better three-year-old on a half-mile than he is, and he showed it tonight.”

Gimpanzee — originally named Army of Monkeys — was a $170,000 yearling acquired at the 2017 Harrisburg sale. His dam, Steamy Windows, produced one previous foal, unraced Credit Winner filly Danish Girl, who sold for $40,000 at Harrisburg in 2016. Owned by Stefan Balazsi’s Order By Stables (Dan Patch 2018 Breeder of the Year), Muscle Massive daughter Steamy Windows never took a mark on the track, but is working on making her mark as a broodmare: her latest yearling and third foal, Keep Your Coins, is a full sister to Gimpanzee.

American Mercury upsets at 7-1

The Messenger Stake final had a different complexion, as heavily-favored Bettors Wish drew post position #1 in a race without his closest divisional rival, Cane Pace/North America Cup title-holder Captain Crunch. Bettors Wish (Dexter Dunn) captured his non-wagering stake elim on August 24, going gate to wire in 1:53.1h. The second elimination went to the Linda Schadel-co-owned/trained Aflame Hanover (Corey Callahan), who wired rivals on that occasion in 1:52 flat. There was no show wagering offered in the final.

In the $500,000 Messenger final, #3 American Mercury (Tyler Buter) left hard, but #1 Bettors Wish quickly charged to the front followed by #2 Branquinho (Ray Schnittker). With a gap of three lengths back to fourth-place #4 U S Captain (Jason Bartlett) at the 27 flat first quarter, the 1-9 favourite remained in command through a 55.3 half, although Bartlett’s horse was on the attack first over and continued to fight Bettors Wish through the 1:23.3 three-quarters. U S Captain wasn’t fully subdued turning for home, and Dunn’s colt now faced additional pressure: Tyler Buter and American Mercury navigated a narrow path between the favourite and the pylons, lunging ahead of Bettors Wish by a head at the wire. U S Captain held third, a length back, in the 1:51.3 mile.

A 7-1 victor in the 64th Messenger final, American Mercury (p, 3, 1:49.4s; $508,463) improved upon his place finish to Bettors Wish in their Messenger elimination. He was previously scratched sick from the Aug. 10 Milstein Invitational at Northfield Park. A smiling Tyler Buter expressed gratitude post-race: “(American Mercury) was super-sharp coming into the race. First and foremost, I owe (trainer) Chris (Oakes) a big thank you for giving me a shot on this horse. It’s been a fun ride all summer, driving him and travelling New York. He definitely came through tonight and showed everybody on the big stage what he can do.”

Buter explained the quick thinking behind his stretch drive: “I (came) off Dexter’s helmet there and he kicked on the gas — I think that might have been the winning move, because if I stayed there, Dexter was probably going to back into me as much as he could. So then, as soon as I [came] off his helmet, Dexter stepped on the gas, and I was able to get back down the inside and find a little room late, and it worked out.”

Trainer Chris Oakes said the lightly-raced 2-year-old has come back strong at age three, rewarding co-owners Crawford Farms Racing, New York; Northfork Racing Stable, Pennsylvania; Chris Pompey, Pennsylvania; and Scott Bice, Ontario. American Mercury was bred by Steve Stewart, Julie Nash and Charlie Nash, all of Kentucky. The gelding is a son of American Ideal, out of the Somebeachsomewhere mare Tessa Hanover, an unraced daughter of prolific Triplet Hanover (p, 3, 1:52.1s; $207,482). He brought $170,000 as a yearling at the 2017 Lexington Select Sale. Tessa Hanover has a 2019 yearling colt, Ice House, sired by Always B Miki.

The moment when American Mercury started to get hot, in the most favourable sense of the expression? “When I gelded him!” said Oakes with a laugh. “He was kind of a big, growthy 2-year-old. He had a lot of ability; we loved him training down, and quite honestly wasn’t quite as good as I thought he would be at 2, even though he raced some pretty good miles. Bringing him back at three, he was training good, but I just thought he’d probably be more focused, mentally, for racing, as a gelding. We made that decision and I honestly believe it helped him a lot—he means business now.” The conditioner indicated the Messenger winner would now be pointed toward the Little Brown Jug.

Quincy Blue Chip in the Hudson

Corresponding distaff finals were also part of the Saturday night card. In the $124,334 Hudson Filly Trot, 4-5 favourite #5 Quincy Blue Chip (Jim Morrill Jr.) took charge after the 28.2 opening quarter, maintaining distance between herself and the rest to the 58 flat half, after pocket-sitter #4 Starita (Dexter Dunn) broke on the second turn. #3 Golden Tricks (Andy Miller) devoured Quincy Blue Chip’s lead down the stretch, angling out of second at the 1:27.3 three-quarters to take down the leader in a win photo. Starita rallied for the show spot in the 1:56 flat mile. #1 Jezzys Legacy broke leaving and was a non-factor.

“The trip couldn’t have worked out any better,” said Miller, who picked up the catch drive from trainer/usual driver Ake Svanstedt after Golden Tricks’ break last week in her Zweig division at Vernon Downs. “I had more confidence when they told me she warmed up good.” Bettors sent her off with less confidence; she was 7-1 in the Hudson. The Trixton daughter is the latest offspring of SJs Photo mare Golden Goose (3, 1:59.3m; $2,080) to pass through the sales ring, bringing $24,000 at Harrisburg in 2017. Golden Tricks (3, 1:52.2m; $177,940) is owned by Brixton Medical Inc. of Matawan, New Jersey.

Trillions Hanover wins Lady Maud

The $122,224 Lady Maud field consisted of five fillies, after the scratch of #6 Annie Hill. #4 Trillions Hanover (George Brennan) was on the move first over from last approaching the half, while #5 Bestseller Hanover (Jason Bartlett) set the early fractions of 27.3 and 57.1. That pair duelled as the pace picked up to the 1:24.4 three-quarters, with announcer John Hernan declaring, “It’s pretty much wide open here.” #1 Jk American Beauty (Jordan Stratton) was able to find room between the battling leaders as the finish loomed; #3 Blue Ivy (Tyler Buter) closed well, widest of all. In the end, it was Tom Fanning trainee Trillions Hanover (3, 1:50.0m; $130,968) who won the sprint down the stretch, edging out Jk American Beauty (second) and Bestseller Hanover (third) in 1:53.1.

A Somebeachsomewhere daughter of Tutu Hanover (p, 3, 1:52.0s; $117,687), the 2019 Lady Maud winner was originally named Thompson Hanover. Trillions Hanover (p, 3, 1:50.0m; $192,080) is owned by VIP Internet Stable of Piscataway, New Jersey; Falcon Racing LLC of Jackson, New Jersey; and Paul R Lang of Paramus, New Jersey. Tutu Hanover is a daughter of 2019 Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Tricky Tooshie.