story by Melissa Keith / quotes by Dave Briggs
When two-time Breeders Crown Mare Trot winner Manchego officially retired Oct. 7, it guaranteed there would be no repeat in this year’s edition: Barry Guariglia’s 2019 and 2020 champion would instead be headed to Kentuckiana Farms to become a broodmare. Three days after the news broke, Atlanta equalled Manchego’s 1:49m distaff world record in the Allerage Farms Open Mare Trot at The Red Mile and became presumptive heir to the crown.
One elimination was needed last weekend at The Meadowlands to decide the field for the trotting mares’ Crown final. Atlanta (Yannick Gingras) fled the pocket to grab the lead from Felicityshagwell S (Åke Svanstedt), then fended off When Dovescry (Dave Miller) in a 1:52.1m victory that set the tone for the Oct. 30 final. The connections of both Atlanta and When Dovescry had declined byes.
While the 2021 divisional championship did not attract any supplemental entries by Oct. 18 deadline, it did retain three finalists from last year’s edition: When Dovescry, third to Manchego last year at Hoosier Park; Felicityshagwell S (sixth, after cutting mile), and Weslynn Quest (eighth after a break). Atlanta, third to Gimpanzee in the 2020 Open Trot, would also migrate to the distaff Crown this year. Last year’s Three-Year-Old Filly Trot Crown champ Next Level Stuff, runner-up Sorella, and fourth-place finisher Hypnotic Am joined 2020 Hambletonian winner Ramona Hill as four-year-old newcomers to the Mare Trot.
In the end, neither of the star-studded field’s two Hambletonian winners, nor the two Hambletonian Oaks winners, could touch the mare named for a seductive character in the “Austin Powers” comedy franchise.
In Saturday’s second Crown final, #4 Felicityshagwell S (5, 1:51.1m; $524,050) had ears pricked and nose on the gate before any other rival, crossing to the lead from post #6 as Svanstedt cast a quick look to his outside. #9 Weslynn Quest (Joe Bongiorno) settled behind the pacesetter, followed by #1 Refined (Brett Miller) and #2 Atlanta (Yannick Gingras), as the field raced single-file to the :27.3 opening quarter. Atlanta emerged first over nearing the :57.2 half, with the rest of the field coming to life after the 1-2 favorite’s anticipated move in what race caller Roger Huston termed “a cakewalk second quarter” of :29.4.
The mares were half in-half out, as Felicityshagwell S kept Atlanta parked to the three-quarters in 1:25.4. Weslynn Quest jumped offstride in the pocket and was taken to the safety lane as the stretch loomed ahead. Svanstedt’s mare held off Atlanta by a decisive length-and-a-half in 1:52.2m, Refined broke stride behind the top pair, and closers battled for show, which went to #7 When Dovescry.
Afterward, trainer/driver Åke Svanstedt beamed in the winners’ circle, patting the Swedish-bred mare who broke his 0-for-36 Breeders Crown drought. “Oh yeah, I looked back waiting for them, but they didn’t come,” he said with an incredulous laugh. “She is a very good horse and she goes fast. Oh yeah, she felt very good and went very, very easy.”
He acknowledged that luck played a significant role in the biggest win of her career: “She has been a horse that likes to race on the helmet and then you’d like to have racing room, but today she made it good without.”
Bred by Manken AB and Verrazzano AB, and owned by Knutsson Trotting of Delray Beach, FL, Felicityshagwell S (Maharajah—Diaz Boko) had previously won Swedish Breeders Course eliminations at age 2 and 3. She was exported to North America in November 2019, to be campaigned by Svanstedt. The Breeders Crown victory marks a Grand Circuit breakthrough for the 6-year-old mare. Last year, she had a single victory in a Red Mile Open II Trot, while in 2021, she captured Yonkers Open Handicap and Nw30000l5 events, both from post #7, plus an Open Trot at The Red Mile, defeating males on all occasions.
Despite being caught in late traffic during last weekend’s elimination, her trainer/driver said he had remained optimistic after his mare’s fourth-place result: “She made the final, so that was most important.” Reflecting after the final, Svanstedt only needed a few words to express the immensity of his happy relief: “That was good. I feel good.”
Asked whether Felicityshagwell S’s trophy will go somewhere special, perhaps alongside other mementoes of major wins, Svanstedt responded with another laugh, savouring the moment: “Oh yeah, it only took eight years [to win].”
His mare’s 10-1 upset meant that place-finisher Atlanta remained stunningly winless in the Breeders Crown. After the race, driver Yannick Gingras considered what it meant for the fastest racing female trotter. “It’s disappointing, no doubt about it. She is getting to the twilight of her career, and that’s one thing missing on her resume. So, there’s no doubt, it sucks.”
Gingras noted that the fractions of the race did not work to Atlanta’s advantage: “She’s a great sprinter, so I still felt confident going into the last turn. I’ve never driven a trotter that can sprint like her. First up from fourth maybe did [her] in a little bit. I still think when she’s a hundred percent she can go :25 and change, :26 flat; she shows it all the time on the program. But the other horse [Felicityshagwell S] had everything her own way, so all the credit goes to her.”
A Maharajah daughter added her name to the list of international trotters making recent Crown history. True to her name, she didn’t just trot well. She trotted very well.
– with files from Ken Weingartner