story by Keith McCalmont / quotes by Dave Briggs
Velocity Standardbreds’ homebred Monte Miki dug in gamely down the lane to overcome Gulf Shores by a nose in Friday’s (Oct. 29) $600,000 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old pacers presented by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association at The Meadowlands.
Sent to post at odds of 7-2 in rein to Scott Zeron, Monte Miki overcame the odds in a wide-open final contested over a sloppy surface on a rainy evening that favored horses racing from off-the-pace at the East Rutherford, NJ oval.
Gulf Shores left in a hurry for driver Yannick Gingras but Monte Miki, away well from post 2, pulled pocket and surged to the front with Beach Glass forced to retreat to third through an opening quarter-mile in 27.4.
Monte Miki maintained his advantage down the backstretch under pressure from Gulf Shores through a half-mile in 56.4 as Beach Glass launched a first-over move with Pebble Beach following his cover through three-quarters in 1:26.1.
Monte Miki held a precarious lead at the top of the lane with Gulf Shores angling inside as a host of challengers lined up their bids in the center of the track. Gulf Shores appeared to put a nose in front late in the lane, but a game Monte Miki was resurgent to notch a narrow win in a final time of 1:53.2.
The victory marked a fourth Breeders Crown score for Zeron, who won this event in 2018 with Captain Crunch.
“When I got away that close, I eventually wanted to make my way to the front. I protected my spot in that first turn,” Zeron said. “He rates himself a little bit because he’s eager for competition — he did all that himself.”
Zeron, who guided Monte Miki to a half-length victory over Hammering Hank in last week’s elimination, said that despite appearances his horse was never headed by Gulf Shores.
“It might have looked like that on TV, but he never really got his nose past us. This horse fights like crazy,” Zeron said. “I never worry about him up there. All I worry about is keeping the pace honest. Once he sees another horse, he’s really game.”
The Ohio-based Velocity Standardbreds is headed by Sylvia Norris with her husband Mark Evers as the outfit’s trainer.
The 64-year-old conditioner said he was breathless as he stood trackside through an exhilarating stretch drive.
“His races are an emotional rollercoaster, you know,” Evers said. “It feels great. It feels good for my wife. She really loves the horses and she’s been with us for the whole deal. She helps take care of them and does all the business.”
Evers said he was cautiously optimistic following last week’s elimination score.
“We had no idea that we were going to win tonight. I was just hoping that he would perform well and race something like he did last week,” Evers said. “Last week, I thought he really showed well, especially when a horse came to him and fought him off. That was a good mile last week.”
By Always B Miki, who sired last year’s Breeders Crown 2-Year-Old Colt Pace dead-heat winner Perfect Sting, Monte Miki is the first foal out of the Camluck mare Montenegro.
Evers said he was a fan of Montenegro, a 40-race winner with purse earnings of more than $700,000, who he purchased for $57,000 at the 2016 Harrisburg Sale.
“We raced against her all the time at Hoosier Park. I set the track record with Sugar Nips and she broke it the next year,” Evers said. “Eventually, they retired her and sent her through Harrisburg and we made the trip up there and picked her up.”
The talented Monte Miki is no stranger to adversity, overcoming post 11 in a 12-horse field and racing from the second tier at 15-1 odds to capture the Metro Pace final in September at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“Going down the backside I didn’t think he was going to get anything and then Scott went to the inside and a horse made a break and the waves parted and he got through,” Evers recalled of the unlikely Metro Pace score.
Evers was returning to the Breeders Crown for the first time since finishing third in the 2003 2-Year-Old Colt Pace with Arts Chip which was won by No Pan Intended at The Meadowlands.
“He came back in the final and drew the nine hole and salvaged a third out of it. That was pretty nice, too, but not quite like tonight,” Evers said, with a laugh.
Monte Miki, who won his first three starts at Scioto Downs, now boasts a record of six wins from seven starts. He incurred his only defeat when third in the International Stallion Stakes on Oct. 9 at The Red Mile.
The well-prepared Monte Miki, brought over by 2017 O’Brien Award-winning caretaker Teesha Symes, returned $9.40 for a $2 win bet.