Johansson discusses her chances for the stellar Saturday card at Woodbine Mohawk

by Brett Sturman

Woodbine Mohawk Park offers over $2 million in purses Saturday featuring a quartet of rich stakes finals, as well as eliminations for 2-year-old pacers in the Metro and She’s A Great Lady. The four stakes finals include the $376,000 Elegantimage, the $405,000 Peaceful Way, the $370,000 William Wellwood Memorial, and the night is headlined by the $605,000 Canadian Trotting Classic.

The two most visible in the Canadian Trotting Classic are Hambletonian winner Forbidden Trade and the Melander-trained Green Manalishi, but by no means is this a two-horse race. Far from it, in fact. A reasonable argument could be made for at least five of the nine horses, and for my money one that can beat them all is Don’t Let’Em. A high-powered horse who is very fast when right, Don’t Let’Em is sent out by trainer Nancy Johansson.

“He’s the fastest one out of all of them, but it’s just a matter of which Don’t Let’Em shows up that day. He has some behavioral issues” said Johansson. “He didn’t draw great, but when he went that big mile at the Meadowlands (in the Reynolds) he had the 10-hole, so it shouldn’t really matter assuming he wants to mind his manners and be on his ‘A’ game.

“He was very good last time at the Red Mile. My dad (Jimmy Takter) drove him on safety because he wanted to make sure he got around there flat. He needed a flat line on him because he was actually on the qualifying list, but the way the rules work in Kentucky you just need a flat line in 45 days so that worked to our advantage. He definitely has a shot in there in the Canadian Trotting Classic if he behaves – that’s the number one thing with him.”

Back on home turf off a runner-up finish in the Yonkers Trot, Forbidden Trade figures to be made the favorite. He could very well win, but I’m apt to play against at the expected short price in a competitive field. You can only put so much stock into a qualifier, but for what it’s worth that was a 3-year-old filly (racing in Saturday’s Elegantimage) that Forbidden Trade chased all the way around the track in his qualifier earlier this week. As for other rivals, Green Manalishi comes off a Simcoe win and has been rock solid in every start this year except for the Hambletonian final when he tired a bit in his second race of that day. Pilot Discretion is another that makes his return back to Canada and he won the Goodtimes here earlier this year over an arguably unlucky Forbidden Trade in that race. Burke sees well enough to send Swandre The Giant back up to Toronto following an Indiana Sire Stakes loss to his pesky nemesis It’s A Herbie. Swandre The Giant’s win in the Dancer remains in memory and a performance like that would give him an honest shot.

In addition to Don’t Let’Em in the CTC, trainer Johansson sends out live shots in the other big races Saturday including The Ice Dutchess in the Elegantimage who won on this night last year in the Peaceful Way. The Ice Dutchess was done in, in part, by a bad post in the Hambletonian Oaks and lands another outside spot Saturday, though Johansson didn’t particularly see that as the main matter.

“She’s been having a little bit of trouble getting over the track. She was so good before she came to Canada, but once she got to Canada she started hitting her knees pretty bad,” said Johansson. “She was wearing plastic shoes down in New Jersey and the plastic shoes just weren’t working on this track, so we kind of have been tinkering with trying to get her perfect. Obviously, she hit her knee pretty hard the first week (in the Casual Breeze) and knocked herself off stride. Last week in the Simcoe she was still hitting her knee, but she was better. We made an additional shoe change this week and hopefully we found the right key. But I think if she’s good, she can go with When Dovescry. I don’t think she’s really that much better than her, it’s just a matter of The Ice Dutchess getting around that track right now. She actually ran up there last year too for my dad, so she’s always had a little bit of issues with the track at Mohawk.”

When Dovescry won her elimination last week, but things looked dicey for a moment in the final stages. Evident Beauty who was done no favors by landing post 10 took dead aim on When Dovescry in deep stretch but made a break. It’s very tough to say if she would have gone by without the break, but regardless, she had an ideal trip that night and is unlikely to work out a similar journey now. Teddy’s Littleangel isn’t as heralded as some of the other fillies in here, but she did beat Forbidden Trade around the track in her qualifier this week and deserves respect from that.

In the Peaceful Way final for 2-year-old trotting fillies, Johansson sends out possible favorite Panem. One of two elimination winners last week, Panem will open as the slight second choice at 3-1 while other elimination winner Dip Me Hanover is the morning line favorite at 5-2.

Johansson describes Panem as a really nice filly. “She covers ground beautifully and I don’t think we’ve even seen remotely close to the best of her yet,” said Johansson. “She’s still learning, she’s a little green. She’s minded her manners twice in a row now which is nice, and she’s still coming into herself, but she definitely has a shot and I wouldn’t count her out. She’s a little in the same boat as Don’t Let’Em in that you have to hope that the right Panem shows up that night.” Though Panem has been put on the front end in her last two scores, Johansson notes that Panem isn’t afraid to do work and points to her Doherty elimination at the Meadowlands when she was parked for the better part of the mile and just missed.

There isn’t a colt from Johansson in the $370,000 William Wellwood, so unfortunately I’m on my own for this one. Back Of The Neck looks to be peaking at the right time and is by standout European sire Ready Cash. The only question is if the young driver Mattias Melander (brother to trainer Marcus) can deliver on this big of stage. Fellow Melander-trainee Capricornus got an unexpected threat last week from 30-1 longshot HP Royal Theo who took it to the even money favorite, though I’m not sure winning driver Tim Tetrick ever thought the win was in doubt once he put away Synergy. Back Of The Neck gets the edge in a race that could eventually produce some 2020 Hambletonian contenders.

The Saturday card also features eliminations for the Metro and She’s A Great Lady, and Johansson sends out notable horses of interest in those eliminations. The second of two She’s A Great Lady eliminations includes JK First Lady, who is out of the Johansson-trained Horse of the Year from 2014 JK She’salady. She figures to be on the outside looking in against powerhouse fillies Reflect With Me and Lyons Sentinel, though so far Johansson likes what she sees.

“She raced really good for us at the Meadowlands and then had her first loss there at Chester,” said Johansson. “She’s still getting experience, and then last week in the sire stakes final at Chester she was kind of locked in and got racing room a little bit too late. She’s actually more of a big track horse, and I think the big track will suit her better than the five-eighths will. She only really raced an eighth of mile last week, so we figured we’d bring her up here and give her a shot just because she wasn’t used very hard last week. I think she’s a very nice filly and very determined so i think she’ll do well for herself.”

In the first of two Metro eliminations, Johansson’s Tall Dark Stranger has been in a world of his own through four career starts but is about to run into his stiffest challenge in the form of PASS champion Papi Rob Hanover. Johansson notes that Tall Dark Stranger has already beaten that rival earlier this year at the Meadowlands, but in all fairness that came in both horse’s first race of the year. That aside, Johansson couldn’t be any more impressed with her 2-year-old heading into his elimination. “He’ll do what he needs to do. He’s been way under wraps, and we’ve not asked him to go yet. Yannick just pulled his earplugs last week because I asked him to, because I didn’t want the Metro being the first time we pulled his ear plugs. So, Yannick pulled them in the final eighth or sixteenth last race and he just shot off. He’s got plenty left in his tank and he’s training really good. He’s a super nice horse and could be a very special individual in the future.”