Conditioner has overcome a stroke to have two top Ohio-bred freshman trotters
by Jay Wolf
Drawing a poor post position in a sire stakes final could be heartbreaking, but for Ohio trainer Steve Cross, drawing a pair of post sevens has been the least of his problems this year.
Cross is the conditioner of a pair of the Buckeye state’s best freshman trotters, Black Magic ($207,578) and Truly Relentless ($138,511), and strong contenders in Saturday’s (Oct. 1) Ohio Sire Stakes finals at Hollywood Dayton Raceway.
Cross, who recently turned 67 years-old, suffered a stroke on Dec. 31 that has left him without the use of his left side.
“We trained (at MGM Northfield Park) that day and when I was going home from the barn, I had a stroke,” said Cross. “Numerous horsemen came down and started jogging for me. Don McKirgan and my son (Kevin) did all of the training. They really kept the barn going until I was able to start coming back.”
The assistance allowed Cross and his wife, Tish, the opportunity to take care of his health.
When Cross returned to the backstretch, a pair of his freshmen trotters that he selected from the 2021 Ohio Select Sale started to turn some heads.
Cross picked out a Full Count colt by the name of Sudden Lee for $65,000 and Long Tom filly by the name of Evening Drive for $43,000. He signed for both yearlings for Richard Gutnick, who changed their names to Black Magic and Truly Relentless.
Gutnick then added Thomas Pontone and Joseph Lozito, Jr. to the ownership line.
“I give a lot of the credit to Mr. Gutnick. I told him what I liked and he went along with it. That makes it very easy when you have an owner that is willing to pay a higher price for better horses,” said Cross.
Truly Relentless started her season in a qualifier on June 2 against her stablemate Black Magic, winning by a head in 2:00.4. Close finishes would become the norm for the filly. She was second in her first pari-mutuel start at The Meadows and second in the $150,000 Next Generation at Eldorado Scioto Downs (July 4) – both defeats by a neck.
Black Magic started his career with a pair of wins at The Meadows – the fastest in 1:57.2 – earning a spot in the $150,000 Next Generation Event.
The colt went off as the lukewarm favorite and defeated a solid field by a head in 1:57.1.
After the Next Gen events, Truly Relentless rattled off three straight wins, including the first two OHSS legs and the $67,000 Ohio State Fair trot. She was a competitive second and third in her remaining two OHSS legs – finishing tied for second in the season-long points standings.
Black Magic matched his stablemate’s two wins, a second and a third in the preliminary legs.
Both trotters will leave from post #7 in the respective $300,000 finals.
“It is what it is, said Cross. “(Post seven) is not ideal. They’re both very nice horses and they can race from any post.
“Unfortunately, (Truly Relentless) has drawn bad all year long. She won the State Fair out of the nine hole. She’s had a lot of bad posts, but she’s been a very nice horse all year.”
Black Magic will square off against maybe the deepest field of the eight OHSS finals.
“You’ve got three track record holders. You’ve got two world record holders (Rumble Strips and A Real Legend),” said Cross. “What a nice group of horses you’ve got in the state of Ohio.”
Both of the Cross trainees will have the services of driver Chris Lems, who Cross gives a lot of credit his trotters success and development.
“Chris has done a very good job with these two. He takes care of the horses… When’s done at the end of the year, you have a horse to race as a 3-year-old.
“At the beginning of the year, I told him, ‘I’ve got a couple of nice t2wo-year-olds and I’d like you to drive them.’ He told me, ‘I don’t really like to travel unless it is something special. If it is something special, I’ll do it.’
“I appreciate everything that he’s done.”
After the OHSS finals, Truly Relentless will be sent to trainer Linda Toscano to begin prepping for the Breeders Crown.
As for Mr. Cross?
“I was ready to retire. I only train for Mr. Gutnick. He won’t let me retire,” joked Cross.
“He’s a very nice and generous man. He told me that he has 100 per cent faith in me and that I would do the right thing.”
Cross recently added a pair of Long Tom yearlings to add to his current stable of three.
The eight $300,000 Ohio Sire Stakes Finals will headline the $3.4 million card at Hollywood Dayton, which also has four $250,000 Dayton Derbies.
Four of the sport’s top six horses in the latest Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll will be competing on the card – Bulldog Hanover (ranked #1), Test Of Faith (#3), Bella Bellini (#4) and Bythemissal (#6).
The first post for the 12-race card will be at 6:30 pm.