Six questions to be answered on Meadowlands Pace Night

by Brett Sturman

All the stars will be out on Saturday’s (July 15) always-anticipated Meadowlands Pace card. Here are six questions that may all be answered that night:

1. How far and by how much will Jiggy Jog S continue her dominance?

The announced retirement this week of the great Bella Belliniwill put even more distance between Jiggy Jog S and the rest and other trotting divisions. That includes the 4-year-old races, races against females and, before is all said and done perhaps, all open trotters. Her closest pursuer to date, Bella Bellini, gave an honest challenge two races back in the Six Pack, and then it was a blowout last week when Jiggy Jog S took on males in the Graduate, minus her rival.

In closing out her 3-year-old season with wins in the Kentucky Filly Futurity and then the Breeders Crown, you could see Jiggy Jog S beginning to assert her dominance. But, thus far as a 4-year-old, she’s taken it to an entirely different level. Between what she’s turning into and arguably a division that isn’t as strong as it’s been in other years, there’s no telling what Jiggy Jog will go on to accomplish. If current form continues, it’ll be interesting to see how she ends up comparing against that once-in-a-generation 4-year-old group from 2019 that featured Atlanta, Manchego and Six Pack, all who trotted between 1:49 and 1:49.2 that year.

As for the immediate future in Saturday’s $410,250 E.T. Gerry Jr. Hambletonian Maturity it’s looking like another 1-5 type price coming again for Jiggy Jog S. All three races this year with Dunn driving have resulted in 1:50.3 wins, and last week in the Graduate she put daylight between herself and Keg Stand once asked the question. M-M’s Dream will give it a try who when last seen here in June, exploded out of the pocket against Fashion Schooner to win going away by many. Last year’s Hambletonian winner Cool Papa Bell lands an inside post for a change and maybe can make things interesting if close enough early. Looks Like Moni was closing not too far behind Jiggy Jog a few back in an earlier leg of the Graduate.

2. Can Sylvia Hanover be beaten in the Mistletoe Shalee?

Sylvia Hanover is one of a few on the card venturing outside of Ontario for the first time. The only variable that may have a say in derailing what, for all intents and purposes, is a perfect career record is if she’ll perform any differently over The Meadowlands’ oval.

That 1:48.3 win last out in the Fan Hanover at Woodbine Mohawk Park was something to be seen, and she qualified 10 days ago when sprinting home in :25.3 in a morning race won by 4-year-old Prohibition Legal.

In the Fan Hanover, Twin B Joe Fresh did her part in taking it to Sylvia Hanover when she came calling first over through a :26-and-change third quarter, but eventually raised the white flag in deep stretch after the tough trip. Twin B Joe Fresh does have the post edge once again, but Sylvia Hanover has been a machine both last season and this one, and a win in the $169,000 Mistletoe Shalee will get her close to $1 million in career earnings, still with a ton of the 3-year-old season to go.

A threat from Strong Poison can’t be ruled out, either. A talented 2-year-old in her own right last year, she was unleashed a couple of weeks ago at Hoosier in the Nadia Lobell and put up a monster time of 1:48 in her first start of the year. It’ll be fascinating to see how that translates into a performance against the two best fillies. Beach Cowgirl deserves a shout here, as well.

3. Will Silver Label repeat her Perfect Sting effort?

Silver Label, last year’s O’Brien winner for 3-year-old fillies, made quite the memorable Meadowlands debut two weeks ago when winning the Perfect Sting. Beginning from the second tier and having to come first-over from a far way back, the Ontario-sired star was relentless in wearing down the heavily backed Grace Hill. Silver Label did so despite coming into relatively soft fractions and is now rewarded with a clean draw into post 1 for the $159,000 Dorothy Haughton. With that 1-2 order being a reversal of Silver Label and Grace Hill’s race prior from the Roses Are Red, the Haughton will serve as the rubber match between the two.

In that Perfect Sting race, Test Of Faith did as well as possible to close from an impossible spot while making her first start since last year’s TVG Mares, a race won by Grace Hill. She’ll be tighter now, but isn’t done any favors by the outside post 10 in an 11-horse field. Treacherous Dragon was a 1:48.3 winner three back but clearly hasn’t been as sharp in her last two. Max Contract has a continued history of surprising in spots like this; hoping for as hot a pace as possible.

4. Who will emerge as Hambletonian favorites?

Two $138,500 divisions of the Stanley Dancer Saturday night should provide further clarity to the Hambletonian picture, with eliminations for the latter race taking place just two weeks from now.

In the first Dancer division going in race 10, Air Power has progressed brilliantly from ages 2 to 3. The New Jersey Sires Stakes Final 3-year-old champion from two races ago, he continues to trot a late storm every race and did amazingly well to even get close last out in the Reynolds when he closed in :25.3 from out of the clouds in making his first start in a month. Oh Well, who was last year’s NJSS champion, gets another shot at Air Power after being just a half-length down to that rival two back in 1:50.4. He just missed last out in his division of the Reynolds when he got by Tactical Approach but was caught by Celebrity Bambino. Last year’s 2-year-old divisional champion Volume Eight didn’t exactly make an impression on his season debut last out in his division of the Reynolds. Let’s see if he’s better in second start back. Kierkegaard K broke in the Yonkers Trot final but didn’t seem well positioned at that time anyway. Two-year-old Canadian champion Gaines Hanover invades.

Later into the night with the second Dancer division going in race 13, there’s a few question marks. Tactical Approach was somewhat over bet down to 2-5 in the Reynolds and wound up third by a length despite being kindly rated along through a :56 half-mile. Having won on the lead in an earlier NJSS race and then racing just as well from off the pace in a couple of races since then, it’ll be interesting to see what strategy Zeron now lands on. Winner’s Bet shined in his first start since last year’s Breeders Crown when he took advantage of a perfect pocket trip; seems in line for another good trip from the rail. Celebrity Bambino surged past the top two choices in his Reynolds division in a sharp score. That came off a month’s freshening and could be hinting at his better form at the right time. Kilmister didn’t have much to speak of in the Zweig at Vernon in that race won by Ari Ferrari J. Once In A Lifetime gets tested for class; his trainer won last year’s Hambletonian.

5. What will the William Haughton bring this year?

It may be impossible for this race to top last year’s record 1:45.4 performance from Bulldog Hanover, but this year’s edition remains top notch. Ruthless Hanover has now gone sub-1:47 in two of his last four races (one of those on a five-eighths track), and he paved the way all on his own in the Brower Memorial. Abuckabett Hanover begins right next to Ruthless Hanover after being caught wide and too far back last out and I’m sure McCarthy will be keeping much closer tabs on that foe. Allywag Hanover seems like a tough proposition in this spot. After avoiding the worst of it two back in the Gold Cup Invitational at Woodbine Mohawk, in a race where it didn’t look like he was handled aggressively to start with, he took it easier here last week against lesser foes. Tattoo Artist was used hard last out from post 10 into that :25.2 opening quarter and lands a more reasonable starting slot now. Charlie May returns to the Meadowlands Pace card and it’s been two years since that still unsettled Pace disqualification; he had the same post 9 that night, too. Bythemissal makes his first start in two months.

6. Who will win the Meadowlands Pace?

The road here goes through Confederate. After second-place finishes in last year’s Breeders Crown and more recently in this year’s North America Cup, Tim Tetrick hinted last week in his post-race interview that he may be closer to the front end this time around. Last week’s win in 1:47.3 stamps him as the one to beat and he’ll deserve what should be odds-on favoritism. Voukefalas did well for himself last week to be second following a first over attack. He’s another that seeks redemption from the North America Cup when he was free too late. Cannibal continues to pass every challenge and stepped up his record to 4-for-4 on the year with his upset elimination win, but will get a new driver in Andrew McCarthy as Zeron is opting for El Rey. Christchurch was brave in his elimination, losing by just a length and hanging in there pretty well despite cutting the mile through a :52.1 half-mile pace. He, too, will get a new driver in Gingras, as Dexter Dunn is electing to go with Fulton. Its A Me Mario could be closing if the race sets up for him.