A long year is starting to have an impact on the sport’s stars.
by Brett Sturman
Last weekend’s elimination races weren’t kind to most of the sport’s top-rated horses, many of which were highlighted here in last week’s column (full column here) as divisional locks or spoken to in favorable terms. One amusing message I received in response to the column was that the 2-year-old locks are a kiss of death and that the owners should sue me for jinxing. I must admit, it was rather uncanny.
For most of these horses, even the 2-year-olds, it’s been a long season. A lot of things can and do change throughout the year, both physically and environmentally. Horses that were lesser-known commodities throughout much of the year are now top Breeders Crown contenders, and horses who carried the headlines for much of the year are now more suspect.
A solid case in point is that of Ambassador Hanover in the 3-year-old colt trotting division. He’s clearly a nice enough horse and who was third in the Hambletonian as a big longshot, but for much of the year I don’t think anyone would have considered him to be one of the leading contenders heading into his Breeders Crown final.
Following his sharp elimination win last week, even his trainer and driver Ake Svanstedt was left searching for words to describe the performance. In that post-race interview, Svanstedt said that he was a little surprised by how sharp his colt was, and that he thought that’s the best Ambassador Hanover has been. Conversely, in the same division, Jujubee entered his elimination on the heels of a record 1:49.3 win in the Kentucky Futurity, and lost.
That’s just one example of not necessarily a division but also a Breeders Crown final that seemed like a sure thing a week that’s now up for grabs as complexions have changed. Horses that seemed invincible no longer are. It’s all the result of more compelling elimination races than usual and sets the stage for what sets up to be 12 high quality Breeders Crown finals.
Trying not to jinx anyone, here are my thoughts for the races across tonight and Saturday.
Friday, Oct. 29
Race 6, 2-year-old Colt Trot
Races 6-9, $0.50 Pick 4 ticket: 3 / 1-6-7 / 2-3 / 2-3-4-6-7-10 $18
BRANDED BY LINDY blew the doors off them last week in his Meadowlands pari-mutuel debut, and that was a continuation of the show that he put on in two races at the Red Mile. He’s emerged as a star and will warrant heavy support. DOUBLE DECEIVER was making late gains though well after the matter had been decided, he’s never raced worse than second when staying flat. REBUFF sat loose second over cover in his elimination but then ended up winning going away. TESTING TESTING faces tougher and loses Miller. DULY RESOLVED has thrown in a couple of good ones but also some surprising losses.
Picks: Branded By Lindy, Double Deceiver, Duly Resolved
Race 7, 2-year-old Filly Pace
NIKI HILL went down in defeat for the first time in her elimination, but I think that can be forgiven. She went into a first-over grind for the second straight race, and this time it got her as she was able to eventually wear down the race pace setter but lost to the tripped-out pocket sitter. No real reason she can’t make amends. QUEEN OF SUCCESS rallied from third-over a couple back against Niki and then pulled off the upset last week off the perfect trip engineered by McCarthy; was a longshot both times. DON’T FENCE ME IN accepted a bye into the final and should be fresh for Alagna. SEA SILK also saw her unbeaten streak come to an end last week and now has post 10, doesn’t seem easy from out here for Page. GOTTHEGREENLIGHT got the second-over trip but didn’t have enough in her elimination, does have Sears and the rail though.
Picks: Niki Hill, Gotthegreenlight, Don’t Fence Me In
Race 8, 2-year-old Filly Trot
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last week is Venerable breaking stride and not making this final. At the time she broke she was a length or so off LILBITALEXIS who took a lot of support that night and went onto win that elimination in good order. She’s another 2-year-old trotter that carried her Lexington form through to her Crown elimination and looms a top contender. SELFIE QUEEN fought on through the lane even though passed and has appeal at a square price. DELILAH HANOVER was trotting a streak on the backside in her elimination, was pushed three-wide and still held well; upset possibility. RAISED BY LINDY beat LILBITALEXIS two back at Lexington and held off all comers last week. Sears goes with JOVIALITY S over Melander barn mate JAYA BAE.
Picks: Selfie Queen, Lilbitalexis, Raised by Lindy
Race 9, 2-year-old Colt Pace
What a race this shapes up to be. MONTE MIKI proved that his Metro win two back was no fluke when he was put on the front in his crown elimination and took them all the way to a career-best 1:50.4 score. I was surprised that HAMMERING HANK was bet so heavily in that same race, that being his first start in a month while stepping up. He looked like he was going past MONTE MIKI easily at three-quarters but was turned away through the lane. BEACH GLASS lost as the big favorite in his elimination, but it was a high quality try. He set fast fractions and it looked like he had shaken off SIX FEET APART towards the top of the lane, but that rival kept coming. In a further vote of confidence, Dave Miller goes to SIX FEET APART over GULF SHORES, who was excellent in his elimination splitting horses late and just missing to PEBBLE BEACH who got the jump on the second-over trip. EARLY ACTION fought off first-over pressure in his elimination and raced to finish a close third; will suddenly offer a big price from post 10. Highly competitive race where you could go many deep to close out the Pick-4.
Picks: Beach Glass, Six Feet Apart, Pebble Beach
Saturday, Oct. 30
Race 4, 3-year-old Filly Pace
TEST OF FAITH returns off convincing wins in the Courageous Lady as well as two races in Lexington in which she beat most of these consecutively. Anything can happen but she’s proven herself to be the one to beat. SCARLETT HANOVER tracked down TEST OF FAITH in the Jugette and now will try to do it again, this time on the big track; is re-united too with Tetrick. GRACE HILL held on in her elimination and won the Shady Daisy here in August. FIRE START HANOVER went a big trip last week from post 10 and fires almost every race, defending Breeders Crown champion. BLUE DIAMOND EYES was gradually getting into it from that same elimination.
Picks: Test of Faith, Grace Hill, Fire Start Hanover
Race 5, Mare Trot
ATLANTA got the job done last week in her elimination and seems well-positioned to secure her first Breeders Crown win in her illustrious career. She got the better trip in that race over WHEN DOVESCRY, though the latter stayed on well considering the parked-out trip. These two continue to seem a step above the others in this division. REFINED impressed upon arrival from Dayton and was moving fastest of all approaching the wire. HYPNOTIC AM qualified well in a race won by Forbidden Trade.
Picks: Atlanta, When Dovescry, Refined
Race 6, 3-year-old Colt Pace
Here comes the showdown between CHARLIE MAY and PERFECT STING! PERFECT STING never let the others get close in his elimination when he won convincingly in 1:49.2. Three races later CHARLIE MAY made a decisive move to the front and was kept to task winning in 1:49.1. The division could come down to this race! Not to be forgotten, ROCKYROAD HANOVER was closing last out with a :26.1 final quarter rally and owns a solid recent history here. SOUTHWIND GENDRY never threw in the towel last week. ABUCKABETT HANOVER surprised against these two back, capable when at his best.
Picks: Charlie May, Perfect Sting, Rockyroad Hanover
Race 7, 3-year-old Filly Trot
Another top-notch matchup coming in this Breeders Crown too. BELLA BELLINI was far back with no cover flow whatsoever in her elimination and she still won despite it from what seemed like an improbable spot. Awaiting her is ALTAR, who’s turned into an absolute killer for Takter. Of course, she broke when I selected in that race against Atlanta two back, but she couldn’t have been any better last week in that 1:51.2 win. SHIRLEY GOODNESS deserves respect as the Indiana Sire Stakes champ. ITERATION may show speed to try to get into it early. HERCULISA made a good account for herself last week but lands post 10 for the second straight time.
Picks: Altar, Bella Bellini, Iteration
Race 8, 3-year-old Colt Trot
JUJUBEE was one of the bigger surprises last week, losing at 20 cents on the dollar coming off that scorching 1:49.3 win in the Futurity. I hate to put too much stock into just one race, but there’s no doubt he wasn’t as strong as he had been in week’s prior, especially considering the perfect trip. That said, he remains the one to beat. AMBASSADOR HANOVER was as sharp as ever on the front-end last week and he won his elimination a full second quicker than the other elimination; Svanstedt nearly guaranteed to have him on the front. CUATRO DE JULIO got a well-earned win last week when he was able to surge late from third over; one of many possibilities in here. FLY LIGHT offered late trot in his elimination from an impossible spot. DELAYED HANOVER appreciated the return to the Meadowlands and nearly pulled off the 30/1 shocker last week; last time Gingras drove him was in the Hambletonian final. DANCINGINTHEDARK M is suddenly a longshot; his very best would be good enough.
Picks: Ambassador Hanover, Cuatro De Julio, Jujubee
Race 9, Mare Pace
LYONS SENTINEL was another odds-on favorite that lost last week, though that effort seems forgivable. It didn’t look like she was advancing much first over but eventually found a better gear late. It was only an elimination and one would think she’ll be ready with the big money on the line. ROCKNIFICENT has now won two in a row and finally beat LYONS SENTINEL, will have to do it again when it counts more. That might have been the best race this year from PEAKY SNEAKY last out, almost tracking down ROCKNIFICENT who had the trip from the pocket. RACINE BELL was a supplement; I feel like she may have had more a chance against these earlier in the year. ROCKIN NOLA paced a fast third quarter last week before tiring. KEEP ROCKIN A may step back up one of these days; goes second start off the qualifier.
Picks: Lyons Sentinel, Rocknificent, Keep Rockin A
Race 10, Open Trot
ECURIE D DK couldn’t have looked any better in his first impression at Lexington three weeks ago. He took all the money that day and jogged upon arrival, anxious to see his follow-up act. BACK OF THE NECK was parked in the Allerage so toss that; prior to that he was a solid winner at Dayton and had been rounding back into top form. FORBIDDEN TRADE is always a presence. BEADS set a quick clip last out and is better than that.
Picks: Ecurie D Dk, Forbidden Trade, Back of the Neck
Race 11, Open Pace
ALLYWAG HANOVER has been unbelievable the past few months and is suddenly a contender for Horse of the Year. He’s beaten this deep group of FFA pacers repeatedly and any semblance of himself from prior races would keep the streak going. THIS IS THE PLAN was able to pick it up from fourth to track down stablemate CATTLEWASH in the nick of time last week. In that same race, ENAVANT was loaded with late pace in his first start over the track for connections that do very well here; could be dangerous. OCEAN ROCK looks like someone that might be overlooked but shouldn’t be. He was on a tear heading into the Allerage before that race in which he brushed to the half in :51.3.
Picks: Allywag Hanover, Enavant, Ocean Rock