by Brett Sturman
On the final Road to the Meadowlands Pace list published Thursday by the racetrack, trainer Brett Pelling has two of the top four horses. Papi Rob Hanover is second right behind arch nemesis Tall Dark Stranger, while the upstart Allywag Hanover rocketed up to the fourth spot. Though the pair will be taking different routes this weekend, both represent live chances for Pelling to capture a record fifth Meadowlands Pace.
To most, the real surprise of the two has been the emergence of Allywag Hanover (Captaintreacherous—Anderosa Hanover). Trained by Casie Coleman last year at 2, the former $95,000 Harrisburg yearling purchase could only muster $31,983 in earnings through nine starts as a freshman. He did run a non-threatening sixth in last year’s Breeders Crown but was never a widely known commodity until last month.
Brought back as a 3-year-old with Pelling, Allywag Hanover is now 2-for-2, with those wins coming in times of 1:48.2 and most recently in 1:48 last Saturday. Pelling said he is pleased but not surprised.
“I knew he was fast before he came here,” Pelling said. “I also knew he was a bit of a rogue. I’m not going to say it’s a surprise because I knew the horse had a lot of speed, but there’s so many factors that they kind of have to put it together, and he seems quite content. He’s been completely re-rigged and I’m sure his routine is totally different. I do things differently than (Coleman).”
By virtue of his record, Allywag Hanvoer opted for a bye into the Pace final. But instead of sitting the week out, Allywag Hanover will be detouring to Harrah’s Philadelphia. The decision to race him today (July 10) in a PA sires stake division was a strategic one to keep him on the road to the PA sires stake finals while mitigating against other opportunities that remain uncertain.
As Pelling said, “Races in Canada is very much up in the air. And if the option in Canada ends up not being a viable situation because of COVID, the sire stakes final is a lot of money and it keeps him in the game. I just wanted to open another door for him. He’s staked, but he’s not staked to everything and this gives him more options.”
“He’s guaranteed to be in the (Pace) final. And he races down there at Chester and it’s a shorter field, less pressure, and he won’t have to go in :48. The other thing, too, is that he’s raced a couple of times and I do appreciate the fact that he’ll have an eight-day – almost nine-day – week instead of a seven-day week. He’s got an extra couple days racing in the afternoon on Friday and while they’re all racing their jets off, he’ll be resting.”
In addition, Pelling said he didn’t feel it made sense just yet to have Allywag and Papi Rob Hanover in the same race. “Having two horses in one race when you’re not going for a large purse is very counterproductive. I know Burke does it all the time, but it looks insane to me. When you’ve got two horses going for $40,000, to me that’s one horse going for $20,000. Allywag Hanvoer has had a couple of runs over the Meadowlands so it doesn’t really hurt him to miss the Meadowlands, whereas the other horse (Papi Rob Hanover) is desperately in need of racing.”
In need of racing indeed. Papi Rob Hanover first qualified this year on June 3 but didn’t get into an actual race until one full month later. In both that race and in his upcoming Meadowlands Pace elimination, he has landed post 10 twice. He hasn’t had any luck beginning with last year’s Breeders Crown, but don’t let that detract you into thinking he won’t be primed.
“He’s been awesome since the day we bought him,” said Pelling. Allywag has got high speed, very high speed. But as fast as Allywag looks, you watch Papi Rob the other night, and he’s even faster. He’s coming home in :25.1, and his :25.1 started after they had already straightened up. He’s pretty cool, he’s alright, he knows what he’s doing.”
In that race, Papi Rob Hanover finished second to another Pace contender Capt Midnight. Landed with post 10 once again and done no favors by Capt Midnight right to his inside at post 9, what’s the elimination strategy look like knowing that all he has to do is not finish ninth or 10thto make the final? There’s a small incentive to win by being able to draw automatically into one of the inside five slots next week, but at the same time winning the final is the goal.
“David (Miller’s) a smart guy, he’s been there before,” said Pelling. Either A, he’ll be able to tell if it’s working out real good for him and that’s the game plan, or the B plan is beat two horses and come back next week.”
Tall Dark Stranger already won first out this year in 1:47.4 and subject to what happens in Saturday’s prep/elimination race, will likely be the favorite in the final next week. But none of that matters to Pelling. He feels he has the best horse and always has.
“I thought Papi Rob was better than him (Tall Dark Stranger) every single time they lined up last year, every single time,” Pelling stated adamantly. “He went by him in the Breeders Crown, and that was one of the worst calls in the history of harness racing. It was a big deal and it was a judgement call. I just think they got it wrong. And the bottom line, I lost a little faith in things when that happened. If you were there that night and saw the whole situation and how it went down, you would totally get it even more.”
As far as their matchup goes in this week’s racing and presumably in next week’s final, Pelling said that “You’ve got to get a decent post. You can’t have the 10 hole – you can’t give horses a head start. And the bottom line is when you’ve got the 10-hole you’re giving them a head start.”
But that doesn’t mean Pelling is intimidated.
“I have never not doubted that Papi Rob is the superior animal. That’s just how I feel.”