Schnittker trio looks poised as sophomore stakes kick off in Weiss series

Heavily-staked Victor Laszlo looks promising at Pocono.

by Brett Sturman 

One of the surer signs of spring is the start of the harness racing stakes season. Following another winter of not much happening in the 2-turned-3-year-old division, there finally comes a glimpse of what may come in this year’s season when sophomore colt and gelding trotters kick off the first four different Bobby Weiss stakes at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono this upcoming Monday (April 8).

For 3-year-olds who were non-winners or 2 races or $35,000 lifetime as of February, the Weiss series offers an opportunity for horses across the different 3-year-old divisions to jump start their season and in some cases, their careers. It’s not uncommon for there to be a standout throughout the series that goes on to make a name for themselves as the stakes season picks up, and such could be the case with a group of two trotting colts and one gelding sent out by trainer Ray Schnittker.

The best looking one of those three so far looks to be the Chapter Seven colt Victor Laszlo. A $110,000 Lexington Selected yearling purchase and what looks to be the only Hambletonian-eligible horse in the series, he rounded out last season with a fifth-place finish in the Valley Victory final, losing by only about seven lengths or so to division winner Karl.

“We’ve got him staked really heavily,” said Schnittker. “He jumped on a foot early last year and lost most of the year, and then he went from trotting in 2:00 to trotting in about 1:53 in five weeks. Time will tell but I think he’s got talent, and he should be pretty tough in [the Weiss] though.”

The time span Schnittker speaks of is when Victor Laszlo debuted in early season qualifiers in late-May and early-June, but then after his June debut in a New York Sires Stakes race at Yonkers, he didn’t race again until late in the season in October. At that point, the young colt kept up well in non-winners of 2 races that went in the 1:53 range, and then was race-timed in 1:53.3 in that Valley Victory final. After qualifying sharply two races ago at The Meadowlands to win by 13 lengths in 1:57.3, he made his seasonal debut earlier in the week to crush in 1:57.2 over a sloppy-rated track at Pocono.

Another horse that Schnittker is optimistic about is the gelding Titan Your Grip (E L Titan). He raced far better last year than his 0-for-8 record indicates, as he still earned nearly $100,000 with four second-place finishes while racing throughout the NYSS circuit.

“He was a very nice New York-sired colt last year and I think he’ll be a big factor in his upcoming race,” said Schnittker. “He should be a top three or four trotter in New York this year. Last year he was parked the mile from post 7 in the New York Sires Stakes final and lost by just a couple lengths.”

As for how the horse will fare heading into his first race of the year, Schnittker said that Titan Your Grip likely needed his first start which came at Yonkers two weeks ago after electing to qualify the gelding back only once.

The third of Schnittker’s Weiss horses for the 3-year-old trot division is a Walner colt named High Life who sold for $65,000 out of the same 2022 Lexington Selected sale as Victor Laszlo.

High Life surprised in his first start since December, winning in 2:00 flat and surprising in the process at odds of 10-1 over a Pocono off-track.

“I put hobbles on him for that race and I probably should have had them on earlier,” said Schnittker, noting that the horse may not need them eventually. “He actually qualified okay against Victor Laszlo at The Meadowlands even though he was gapped off quite a bit against him. But he raced pretty good the other day, and the track that day was real deep for Pocono.”

Other horses that catch the eye throughout the series include the Greenshoe gelding Green Pastures. Trained by Per Engblom, Green Pastures debuted a month ago at The Meadowlands and was a 1:55.2 winner where he pulled away smartly following a perfect 2-hole ride. He followed that up next out with a first-over grind and broke in that race’s latter stages when it looked like he was still battling on.

That above race was won by the gelding Wellington Hanover (International Moni), who is also in this series. Wellington Hanover is the case of a rare Burke horse that struggled mightily in the summer stages last year but clearly the time off has served him well. The gelding qualified back with a time of 1:56 and proved that was no fluke when he stormed home wide in his 2024 debut to win going away at upset odds of 21-1.

Elsewhere, the Six Pack colt Four Sixes makes his third start of the year. He cruised in both of his first couple races at The Meadows this year and he showed blazing early speed last year in June in a Tompkins-Geers stake at The Meadowlands. Usain Hanover (Bar Hopping) looks well-prepared for the series, having qualified a single time at The Meadowlands in 1:56 for trainer Nifty Norman. Electric Speed (Tactical Landing) is another Nifty Norman trainee and could be interesting with flat miles. Las Vegas Journey (Muscle Hill) was a $130,000 Harrisburg buy for Svanstedt who is now with trainer Norman Morford. He was well-staked last year at 2 and qualified impressively at Pocono when he won by double digits; he comes from the family of Trixton. Going Green is another Greenshoe, this one for trainer Jenny Melander, who was lightly stakes tested at 2.

There are a couple other horses who appear on the fringe but wouldn’t be a surprise if they’re able to step up if they’ve matured since last year. Following who those horses will be marks the start of a brand new 3-year-old stakes season.