The unhurried return of Alrajah One IT in Saturday’s Maple Leaf Trot
A year ago, the star trotter scratched out of the Maple Leaf Trot. On Saturday, he returns to the races for the first time since as the 2-1 morning line favorite in this year’s Maple Leaf Trot final.
by Melissa Keith
Few harness racing comebacks have been on as high a level as that of Alrajah One IT (6,1:50.3f; $1,512,122). With no starts this year, the 7-year-old stallion will make his seasonal debut in the $530,000 Maple Leaf Trot final on Saturday night (Sept. 2). No eliminations were required, so the Åke Svanstedt trainee will go straight behind the Woodbine Mohawk Park starting gate alongside seven other top aged trotters. Dexter Dunn will drive.
The Italian-bred trotter will come to Campbellville, ON for the very race in which he was scratched as morning line favorite last year. He has qualified twice this summer with trainer Svanstedt in the sulky. On July 22 at The Meadowlands, Alrajah One IT followed Maple Leaf Trot rival Venerate around the track, finishing second in a personal 1:52.2 mile. On Aug. 9 at Pocono, he opened up on three other trotters to win in the same clocking, but by 21-and-a-half lengths.
On Wednesday (Aug. 30), Sarah Svanstedt told HRU Alrajah One IT would be traveling directly to Canada and back for the big race, rather than stabling at an Ontario training center.
“We are still home [at Legend Farm, Wrightstown, NJ],” she said. “It’s [been] a long year since he raced. He actually got scratched out of the same race, when he got injured. He had a long time to heal, and then he was doing his breeding season up until the end of May… He’s going up Friday and then he goes back home again, so it’s just a quick visit to Canada and then back home to his bed.”
Alrajah One IT is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the 2023 Maple Leaf Trot, with stablemate Asteroid (5, Q1:54.1f; $240,588) a relative longshot at 10-1.
Sarah reported that the speedy son of Maharajah—Mariu (by Varenne) had recaptured the form he showed in his three sub-1:51 North American victories last season.
“Yes, he’s back to where he was, and of course he’s in great shape now, for the two qualifiers,” Sarah said. “We’re very pleased with the way he’s looking and, bottom line, he’s a champion, so it’s not that hard to bring those horses back, as [compared to] maybe other horses. Everything looks good, and he’s happy and sound, so we’re very excited to have him back in the real racing again.”
The 2023 Maple Leaf Trot final will be the stallion’s first Canadian start. He will encounter 2020 Dan Patch 2-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year Venerate (5, 1:50.1m; $1,113,245), winner of the inaugural Mohawk Million; and world champion It’s Academic (5, 1:50.1m; $1,826,096), who was fourth-placed-third in the 2022 Breeders Crown Open Trot at WMP.
“[Alrajah One IT is] ready to go, but he’s facing two great horses,” Sarah said. “Venerate and It’s Academic are two great horses, so it’s not an easy field to face for the first time in a real race after a year. Is he going to be a winner right away? I can’t answer that one, but he’s ready to race at least, so let’s see how far that can take him.”
She added that Alrajah One IT began his breeding career earlier this year under the supervision of Dr. Richard Meirs at Walnridge Farm in Cream Ridge, NJ.
“I think it was 21 [mares] here in the United States, but then he had a big number in Europe for the frozen semen… He was training when he was done with the breeding. He started back in May.”
Beyond his record on the racetrack, the stallion brought a relatively-uncommon pedigree to the marketplace.
“They [breeders] looked for the outcross, and they found a perfect one right here,” said Sarah.
Returning to racing was a gradual process.
“He was in the paddock only for over six months,” she said. “He had a suspensory issue. So everything has been taken step by step to train him back, but he’s pretty easygoing and a very athletic horse himself, so he’s pretty easy to manage.”
Sarah said she and husband Åke both sat behind the trotter to get him ready to race again.
“We kind of go 50/50 with him,” Sarah said. “It’s a hundred horses on the farm here, so it just depends… He’s a very nice horse to drive, a very uncomplicated horse.”
Ownership group Scuderia My Horse Inc. of Delray Beach, FL opted to keep Alrajah One IT in training, despite his impressive, if short, 2022 resume. He went undefeated in three U.S. starts: the Crawford Farms Trot at The Meadowlands; the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot at Plainridge Park, in which he set a 1:50.3 track record; and the John Cashman Memorial at The Meadowlands.
Trained by Claus Hollmann and later Alessandro Gocciadoro in Europe, Alrajah One IT had captured the Group I Italian Derby (2019), Gran Premio d’Europa (2020), Gran Premio Continentale (2020), and Gran Premio Freccia d’Europa (2021) prior to export.
“I think we have to start to see how he gets back this year, and go on from there, but I know that the owners love to race,” Sarah said. “That was one of the reasons why they didn’t retire him with the injury, so I’m happy for them that they took the chance to bring him back, because you never know when they have injuries if it’s going to last or not. So let’s just take one step at a time.”
Looking ahead, she said hopes were high for a strong late season from the imported Italian stallion.
“We have Red Mile, and Breeders Crown, of course, is the main goal for him,” she said. “So, we’ll start with this race [Maple Leaf Trot] and see where the next one is. He still has a couple of races in Hoosier, Red Mile and Breeders Crown for sure.”
Not the MGM Yonkers International Trot?
“Well, you know, if they call and they want him, I’m not the one who’s saying ‘no’, you know what I mean?” she said with a laugh. “They still have one spot available, I think. I’m not sure. From what I calculated, I think there’s still one available, so it’s a great race to be part of, but you need to have the invitation, of course.”
Preparations complete, the rest is up to Dunn and Alrajah One IT Saturday night at Mohawk.
“I’m very excited to see him again, up against great horses,” said Sarah, adding that a 2023 Maple Leaf Trot win would be especially meaningful, under the circumstances. “He’s facing a great field, but in the qualifiers, he did everything we asked for. It’s a nightmare for everyone involved when a good horse gets injured. It’s heartbreaking when you find those things. A year has gone fast. We talked about it the other day: It’s a year since we had to do this [scratch] and now he’s back.”
Woodbine Mohawk Park will be unavailable for training on Saturdays during September. Training will be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 7 a.m. until noon. Qualifiers will remain on Fridays at 9:30 a.m.
Post time has been changed to 5:35 p.m. for Sept. 19 and 21, as the RCMP Musical Ride will perform at the track.