Deep and colorful history from Meadowlands Pace eliminations

by Bob Heyden

With eliminations for the 48th edition of the Meadowlands Pace this weekend, it’s a good time to look back at some memorable— and for some, maybe not so memorable — past Pace eliminations.

1977: Back then the elims went the very same night as the final, as they would in 1978. BG’s Bunny rattled off a new world record of 1:54 flat for trainer/driver George Berkner, but never did race again. Escort won the final for Carl LeCause after a second in his elim. Team Kopas had the unique distinction of being favored in every 1977 elim/final.

1978: The only year in the first five editions of the Pace where the elim winner also won the final. Falcon Almahurst was a $150,000 yearling.

1979: Sonsam finished second in his elim then posted a new world record of 1:53.2 in the final. He reversed his elim finish with Hot Hitter who was second in the final. Herve Filion, the first catch-driver to hit the board in a Pace final, drove for Lou Meittinis. Hot Hitter would later set the single-season money record of 826G despite not winning the richest race that year, the $750G Pace.

1980: The Niatross year. His famous fourth in his elim was the last race he didn’t win. No Campbell or O’Donnell yet in a Pace final in a decade they would completely dominate.

1981: No No Nero won his elim but got post 12 and was 10th in the final. Dr. John Hayes won the final with Conquered who was third in his elim. His $13.80 mutuel was the highest until 1986 when Laughs lit up the board at $23.80.

1982: The headline was: Cam Fella does not qualify for Pace final! “The Pacing Machine” and eventual HOY finished seventh in the elims, but would never again miss the board, and, in full retribution mode, sired four-straight Pace winners 1991-94.

1983: Ralph Hanover did something only Niatross also accomplished; win the Meadowlands Pace and the Triple Crown.

Note: From 1980-88 all Meadowlands Pace finals had 12 starters and of the first 40 drivers to either win the Pace final or an elim 32 of the 40 became Hall of Famers.

1984: A lot of mosts and firsts marked this year. Forty entered for a purse of $1,293,000. On The Road Again was the first winner from post 12.

1985: The 1972 Munich Olympic silver medalist in equestrian, Neal Shapiro, finished fourth in his Pace elim and 12th in the final with Pinocchio. Guess who was third in his elim but 10th in the final in 1985? 1986 HOY Forrest Skipper.

Note: Billy O’Donnell had a unique decade in the Pace, winning it in 1985 with Nihilator and finishing second four times (1981 Computer, 1984 Guts, 1987 Laag and 1988 Camtastic).

1986: Guess who Chuck Sylvester won his first million-dollar race with? Laughs, who finished fourth in his Pace elim. This happened a year prior to Mack Lobell.

1989: A first-time happening where the top four in the Pace final finished exactly the same in their elim: Dexter Nukes over Casino Cowboy over Barefoot Hanover over Preview Lobell.

1991: Jack Moiseyev handled Precious Bunny as John Campbell stuck with Artsplace. “Bunny” would sweep both elim and final and post the first sub 1:50 mile edging clear in 1:49.4 en route to a HOY title. The great Miss Easy tried the boys in the elims but broke right before the start. She did come back to capture the Pace consolation over Cambest.

1992: Andrea Chadwick got the female conditioners into the Pace picture making the final with Lord Willing who finished ninth.

1993: Brett Pelling’s Pace debut. He finished seventh with Mystical Prince with Mark Kesmodel driving at 99-1, the longest shot in the field.

1994: Marvin Katz’ Expensive Scooter won his elim and was fifth in the final.

1995: The first “shake” (aka coin toss) to get into the Pace final. David’s Pass got the nod over CA Connection as they tied as the two fastest fourth place finishers and they both made the most of it with David’s Pass getting Brett Pelling his first Pace and CA Connection taking the consolation for trainer Kevin Thomas.

1997: At Point Blank finished fourth in his elim for George Brennan and was second from post 10 in the final for John Campbell despite not winning a single race all year. Campbell also became the first driver to twice draw post 10 in a Pace final (Hilarion 1982) and then just two years later would do it again winning in 1999 with The Panderosa (after a re-draw no less).

1999: The second time in three years a Triple Crown winner was not 1-or-2 in the Meadowlands Pace.

2000: The year of Gallo Blue Chip and the first and richest supplement PB BULLVILLE ($150,000) who did not make it out of the elims.

2001: A matchup of the sports last great rivalry, Real Desire and Bettors Delight. They both won their elims and Real Desire nipped Bettors Delight on the wire in the final.

2002: McArdle won his elim but was second best in the final for Chris Ryder, who debuted in 1998 in the Pace with the favorite Sealed N Delivered who faded to last.

2003: All American Theory won his elim with Dave Miller and the final with Mike Lachance driving him for the first time. Miller would wait 15 years to get his Pace with Courtley Choice in 2018.

2004: Holborn Hanover got the last qualifying spot in 2004 which explained him being 25 points higher than any other at starter at 58-1. He got it done in a race where 95 per cent of the purse money went to New Zealand. Mark Harder was first and fourth (Camelot Hall), Brett Pelling was second with favored Timesareachanging and Chris Ryder’s Metropolitan was third.