Total Stranger vaults onto North America Cup scene

The full-brother to 2020 NA Cup champ Total Stranger has posted two sub-1:50 miles already this young season.

by Brett Sturman

With the 41st edition of the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup at Woodbine Mohawk Park just three weeks away, the latest top contender lists are complete with all of last year’s best 2-year-old pacers. But there’s one yet unmentioned horse who has shot near the top of my own list anyway, and that’s Total Stranger who, I’ve been told, is indeed pointing to the race.

Winless in 11 starts last year at 2, though not without showing hints of high potential, he’s rocketed off in 2024 with two wins from two starts at Harrah’s Philadelphia, with both coming in insanely fast times given the track and race conditions.

Off two strong qualifiers at The Meadowlands in April, Total Stranger at Philadelphia on April 9 in a non-winners of 1, on a cloudy afternoon, he went to the front and blazed through fractions of :26.4, :53.3, 1:20.2 and then stopped the timer in 1:49.1. Driver Yannick Gingras was merely a passenger and 10 days later it was much the same. In a non-winners of 3 at the same track, this time with Tim Tetrick driving, Total Stranger once again crushed overwhelmed competition and won in a tick even faster than prior, in 1:49 flat.

By Bettor’s Delight out of the world champion Precocious Beauty and a $425,000 Lexington Selected yearling buy in 2022, Total Stranger is a full brother to 2020 North America Cup winner and that year’s Horse of the Year, Tall Dark Stranger. Second dam Precious Beauty, first dam of Sportswriter, is already a Hall of Fame broodmare, continues to bolster what’s becoming legendary bloodlines. Have there even been full siblings that have both won million-dollar races, let alone the same one? There couldn’t have been, right?

Last year, Total Stranger — who, like Tall Dark Stranger, is trained by Nancy Takter — earned over $75,000 with four second-place finishes from 11 starts. Though winless, he was timed twice in 1:51.1, once in a division of the Bluegrass at Lexington and another time in the Kindergarten final at The Meadowlands when he was just beaten third by a neck as a 25-1 longshot. He wasn’t quite fast enough last year for the divisions very best when he attempted the Metro, Breeders Crown and Governor’s Cup, but things have a very different feel right now. We’ll see soon enough if his confidence gaining brilliance translates to North America Cup success, but he undoubtedly warrants attention.

Early in the season, only one 3-year-old pacer has gone faster than Total Stranger, and that’s the current North America Cup favorite, Legendary Hanover. Last year’s 2-year-old O’Brien winner, Legendary Hanover was scary in his most recent start last Saturday (May 18).

After winning his seasonal debut the week prior in 1:49.4 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, he came back next out to brush to the lead past a :26 flat opening quarter and eventually powered away while completely in hand to a statement-making 1:48.3 win.

Notable from that same race was Clever Cody, another top North America Cup contender. If you recall, Clever Cody was trapped in for his life in last year’s Metro final, and he returned a winner this year two back at Miami Valley in an Ohio Sire Stakes. But last week, he had suffered broken equipment before the start of the race and fortunately driver McClure was able to safely navigate through the race without incident and would have actually been well-positioned otherwise. Seems certain to get another against his rival soon enough.

Naturally, many of the other recent races with North America Cup implications have taken place at Woodbine Mohawk Park. That includes last year’s Metro winner Captain’s Quarters, who made his seasonal debut five races later on that same card as Legendary Hanover. On his return, he was parked around the first turn, settled for a moment and then was caught three-wide when brushing to the lead past the quarter. From there, he was on cruise control and won as Jamieson pleased in a time of 1:50.1 and solidified his standing as one of the Cup’s top contenders.

Funtime Bayama has already taken a mark of 1:49.4 by virtue of his win two weeks ago in an SBOA final as the heavy 2-5 favorite and he races Saturday (May 25) in a Gold leg against many of the usual Ontario Sire Stake names. Storm Shadow is another one who races Saturday in a different Gold leg and he may be currently under the radar. He battled on when last seen in that race against Funtime Bayama when he was used from post 10 into a :25 and change opening quarter, and don’t forget that last year he won a Breeders Crown elimination and then overcame some traffic to be third in the final.

Stateside, both last year’s Dan Patch winner Captain Albano and last year’s Breeders Crown winner Gem Quality were victorious last Saturday at Pocono. North America Cup contender Mirage Hanover somehow paid off at odds of almost 7-1 when making his seasonal debut at The Meadowlands two weeks ago for trainer Jake Leamon; he steps up into a tougher conditioned race Saturday.

Interestingly, one of the best 3-year-olds in racing right now is McCrunch, and he is not North America Cup eligible. He’s also trained by Takter. McCrunch reminds me of another Takter trainee from last year, Cannibal, who wasn’t well known until summer approached last year. As for McCrunch, unraced at 2, he just won most recently in 1:49.4 with a last quarter of :25.4 over North America Cup contender and last year’s Governors Cup winner Captain Luke, who was making his first start back on the year.