by James Platz
In an interview moments before Amigo Volo filed in behind the starting car in the $786,000 Breeders Crown final for freshman trotting colts, trainer Nifty Norman said his charge was not a very big horse, but he had a big gait. With Dexter Dunn at the controls, the gelded son of Father Patrick—Margarita Momma used that big gait to manhandle the field on the way to a dominant 1:54.3 triumph Friday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The 5-2 second choice cruised to his fifth seasonal win, followed by Rome Pays Off and Mattias Melander. Norman’s other entry, Chestnut Hill, finished third with even-money favorite Real Cool Sam trotting fourth.
Making a break in last week’s elimination, Amigo Volo squeaked into the final as Dunn collected the 2-year-old and recovered to finish seventh. Norman said the break was a result of his pupil getting a bit claustrophobic with a horse to his outside. Friday night, Dunn gave his mount open space as he left from post four and immediately placed the young trotter on the lead. The rest was up to Amigo Volo, and he responded with Breeders Crown record opening fractions of :26.4 and :55.3, distancing himself from the field heading into the turn. From there, it was a question of whether anyone could catch the leader.
“Once we got out of the gate so good I didn’t want to take any chances. We were pretty quick down to the half, and around the last turn when I could sort of feel the horses dropping off me a little and I had a little ground I thought, ‘I’m going to take my shot,’” Dunn said. “It was a long way up the straight and he was a pretty tired pony at the end, but he got his break and it was a great effort.”
Marlys Pinske, whose Pinske Stables co-owns the gelding with David J. Miller (not the driver), has watched the trotter develop from his early days in Florida at Southern Oaks Training Center. Bred by Kentuckiana Farms LLC and Jorgen Jahre Jr., the $42,000 Lexington Selected purchase has had his ups and downs, much like his last two contests.
“I spend my winters in Florida, where he trained all winter and he was good this week and bad next week and then good this week and bad next week,” Pinske said. “When he headed east they castrated him immediately and then he started to come around.”
Minus the miscue in last week’s elimination, Amigo Volo is a horse that is finding his stride at the right time. After finishing second to Real Cool Sam in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes final, the trotter registered back-to-back Grand Circuit wins in Lexington, establishing and then matching his 1:52.3 seasonal mark. After the less-than-stellar elimination, Norman switched from a line pole to a head pole, and the gelding responded. However, turning for home, even the trainer was concerned as to whether Amigo Hall would make it to the wire first.
“At the three-quarters, it was a bit terrifying. I mean, he was well clear, but, you know, they were big fractions,” he said.
Pinske was also caught up in the thrill of the catch-me-if-you-can stretch drive.
”I’m lucky I had a voice,” said the family matriarch. “It was so exciting.”
Amigo Volo returned $7.10-$5.10-$3.60 with the win. The trotter now possesses earnings of $607,696. He has finished first or second in seven of 10 seasonal starts.
Real Cool Sam, entering the final with a perfect nine-for-nine record, finished a disappointing fourth. David Miller steered the favorite and noted afterwards that the homebred owned by Fashion Farms was not himself.
“Something’s not right with him right now. At Lexington, he kind of struggled in the last turn. Same thing tonight and didn’t have his usual kick in the stretch,” he said. “My intention was to try to get away closer, but when the gate folded there was a lot of them leaving and they were hauling. So, I went to Plan B. I didn’t know. I was telling (trainer) Jim (Campbell), I didn’t like where I was in the first turn, but it was pretty good fractions, so it set up for him. The horse behind me finished second, so if he was himself, he would have tracked him down. Something’s not right.”
For Dunn, a New Zealander that is spending his first full season competing in North America, winning his first Breeders Crown is special, particularly when driving for Norman, whom he credits with backing his career when switching hemispheres. The victory was his fourth pairing with the gelding, groomed by McKenna Amiss.
“It feels pretty awesome and Nifty’s been great to me from day one when I got over here last year,” said Dunn, who delivered a fourth Crown win for Norman. “He’s been a massive supporter of mine, so to pay him back it’s great, and the Pinskes are such a great family.”
Norman said the freshman is eligible to the Valley Victory, but the connections will take some time to decide whether they will enter him. Friday night Amigo Volo scored a minor Breeders Crown upset on a night marked by surprise finishes. It was just another opportunity for this little horse to show his big heart.
“He’s always been great-gaited, but now he’s showed a lot of guts,” the trainer said. “He’s only a little fella. There’s not much of him, but I think he’ll come back and be a good horse next year.”