Piecing together how the Yonkers International may play out
Handicapping the $1 million race can be tricky given its mile-and-a-quarter
distance and bevy of foreign horses.
by Brett Sturman
A fascinating field of 10 has once again been assembled for Saturday’s (Sept. 9) $1 million Yonkers International Trot. This year will mark the seventh edition of the race since returning in 2015 — the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the pandemic —and results in those races have been reflective of the uniqueness of the event.
With 10 horses going a mile-and-a-quarter distance over a half-mile sized track, there is a large element of unpredictability. Last year’s race was won by a 20-1 longshot, Cokstile. Three editions ago, Cruzada Dela Noche won at odds of 30-1. In 2015, Papagayo won at just a shade under 10-1. On the other hand, strongly-backed Italian imports Zacon Gio in 2019 and Twister Bi in 2017 dominated in the race as the odds predicted they would.
Before diving into it to see how this year’s race may play out, a word to the wise on the charted program lines for International past performances.
At extended distances beyond a mile, the charted lines don’t necessarily reflect how a race was run. The traditional charted call points for a mile aren’t applicable in longer distance races. For example, if you looked at the charted line for Etonnant in his most recent race at one and 13/16th miles, you’d think he had something resembling a pocket trip for most of his race. That wasn’t his trip, whatsoever. The only way to really tell the trips these horses actually went is to watch the race replays. Fortunately, I’ve already taken the liberty of doing just that, and going from the inside post position outwards, here are my observations.
VIVID WISE AS, 4-1, ITALY
The career accolades of the 9-year-old Yankee Glide gelding are well documented. Showing programmed earnings of over $3 million lifetime, he’s won close to 20 Group 1 races throughout Europe. More recently from this year, he was a game third after going a difficult trip in his Elitloppet elimination, followed by a sixth-place finish later that same day in the Elitloppet final when he rallied from far back. He came back a month later at the end of June to win at Corsa where he showed speed and demonstrated staying power to lead nearly every step at the extended mile and 5/16th distance. He comes into this race off a second-place finish in the $300,000 Group One Hugo Abergs Memorial at Jagersro, a race that contained a couple of key horses, Hail Mary and Hierro Boko. In a steer similar to the Elitloppet final, Vivid Wise peeled off widest of all into the stretch, closing with his usual rush to secure the runner up spot. He’s been remarkably consistent and will strongly warrant consideration as one of the top contenders, if not the favorite when all is said and done.
ETONNANT, 3-1, FRANCE
The 2022 Elitloppet champion was the 8-5 favorite coming out of post 7 in this race last year, and broke stride during that event amidst some confusion and debatable interference. Like Vivid Wise, he also raced in this year’s Elitloppet winning his elimination while parked first over (it’s far more common to overcome that trip in Europe as it is here, though it doesn’t take away from how impressive the performance was). In that final, he was towed up second-over to a few lengths away turning for home when he angled off cover and promptly broke. It’s hard to say what he would have done from that point had he stayed trotting. He followed up that event a few weeks later with back-to-back wins, one of those coming in the Group 2 Prix De Washington in which he responded well to pressure in both cases. I don’t know if I’d consider just one race a cause for concern, but he does come off a fourth-place finish in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, a race in which he was the long odds-on favorite at about 50 cents on the dollar, provided my decimal to fractional odds conversion is correct. In that race, he was put on the front around the midpoint of the race, looked like he was in trouble around the final turn when he had the race taken to him, and tired late to fourth. From an inside post this time around, he lands a fighting chance at International Trot redemption.
IT’S ACADEMIC, 7-2, US
What a run he’s been having this year and he’ll be much more supported this time around than he was in this race last year when he was 31-1 from post 8. He hasn’t missed the board in any of his 11 starts this year and delivered another strong showing last out when he was able to fend off everyone except for the monstrous Alrajah One in the Maple Leaf Trot. He’s proved versatile enough to race however he’s needed to, so that’ll give driver Dave Miller plenty of options depending on how the race unfolds.
FASHION FRENZIE, 20-1, CANADA
Following his win two back in the Earl Rowe Memorial Trot, Fashion Frenzie was named as Canada’s entrant to the International Trot. The two-time O’Brien winner with 22 wins from 35 starts comes off a fifth-placed-fourth finish in the Maple Leaf Trot in which he faded a bit late from the pocket in a race where he was fairly well supported down to 7-1 odds. He brings down driver Louis Roy with him and the Richard Moreau trainee will be listed under the care of trainer Nancy Takter.
HIERRO BOKO S, 8-1, FINLAND
The 9-year-old Swedish gelding garnered headlines earlier this year when he became Europe’s second fastest trotter ever with a 1:49.4 (or 1:50 depending on the source) win in the St. Michels in Finland. Not to take anything away from him, but he came off a trip where he sat off a battling pace, moved sweetly into contention and swept by when asked. In his next race, the Hugo Abergs Memorial as referenced earlier with Vivid Wise As, he tracked cover third-over after being caught wide early, closed mildly but was outkicked by Vivid As. In his most recent race, he was well positioned close in the cover flow but gradually gave way to the back. It’s tough to know what to expect but he belongs and could figure depending on how the race sets up for him.
GET A WISH DK, 15-1, DENMARK
Certainly accomplished over the past couple years of his career, Denmark’s entrant is still in process of getting things back on track to his best form this year as a 5-year-old. Though, he’s been well supported at times against top competition, he broke stride in consecutive starts almost in the exact same manner the moment each race began back in June and July, most recently in the Ulf Thoresen Grand International. He does enter off a confidence-building win in his native land and driver Bo Westergaard won here as a driver at first asking this past Tuesday.
ALDEBARAN ZEUS A, 15-1, AUSTRALIA
He’s another where recent form is hard to gauge, but is highly capable when at his best. His signature win this year came back in March in the Group 1 Hammerhead at Menangle in Australia where he bested rival Just Believe. He does have a qualifying start here in the US under the eye of Nifty Norman, which came Aug. 29 when he was second to Pappardelle, who in turn is in-to-go Sunday in a Harrah’s Philly open.
BENGURION JET IT, 15-1, ITALY
He won the Sweden Cup final in exhilarating fashion earlier this year in May at Solvalla, the day before the Elitloppet. The 6-year-old was also part of that record mile in July won by Hierro Boko, where he ran third, beaten about five lengths by the top pair. Most recently, from the Aby Stora, he finished second at odds of 15-1. In that race, he stayed along the inside throughout, moved up, went deep inside the passing lane and rallied there well to come on for second. Perhaps hoping for a similar journey in the International?
JIGGY JOG S, 8-1, SWEDEN
Though racing technically for Sweden, as that’s where she was born, all of her career accolades have come while racing here in the US. The only mare in the field, she looked like an absolute machine in her first four starts this year before coming up just short to M-M’s Dream in each of her last two. Ake Svanstedt has already won this race as a trainer with Resolve and who better than Dexter Dunn to navigate her throughout what could be a challenging trip. My pick.
VENERATE, 12-1, US
Maybe a tougher call here as he’s just one-for-four to start off the year, but he’s obviously a top-class horse and driver Brian Sears worked magic in this race a few years ago. This one broke when beaten last out in the Maple Leaf Trot coming after a first over push, but on the other hand he just missed by a nose to It’s Academic in the Cashman on Hambletonian Day.
Picks: Jiggy Jog S, Vivid Wise As, It’s Academic