Observations and thoughts from Meadowlands Pace eliminations

Complete with the draw for Saturday’s $700,000 final.

by Brett Sturman 

With the field now set for this Saturday’s (July 13) $700,000 Meadowlands Pace, what were some of the takeaways from last weekend’s pair of eliminations?

For starters, the field for the Meadowlands Pace largely resembles the field for June’s North America Cup final at Woodbine Mohawk Park. A couple of horses may be trending in slightly different directions from that time, which we’ll get to in a moment, but, by and large, the field’s end result is the same despite 26 horses entering for the Cup and 17 for the Pace. Of the 10 Pace finalists, seven of those were Cup finalists. The three new additions are Mirage Hanover, Number Cruncher and It’s Saturday Night, and all three of those raced in the Cup consolation.

The late Dave Brower, inducted this past weekend into harness racing’s Communicators Hall of Fame, would often say in his race reviews that it was one thing for a horse to win elsewhere, and another thing to prove it at The Meadowlands. That adage may not quite hold as strong today as it used to, but in the context of who will be the Meadowlands Pace favorite, Nijinsky, any doubts as to just how good he’s become would have been put to rest with his elimination win.

As part of the Anthony Beaton-trained sweep — Nijinsky and Legendary Hanover — of the Pace eliminations, Nijinsky won only a single time from 10 starts last year at 2 and that was in a 2y-nw1 (he was also multiple stakes-placed to his credit). This year, he’s been literally unbeatable. Now six-for-six in his sophomore campaign, he comes off two consecutive lifetime best miles, having won the North America Cup in 1:48.1 and then his Pace elimination in 1:47.3. But if you wanted to grasp for straws prior and say he won his Cup elimination and Cup final with perfect second over trips, the same couldn’t be said for his most recent performance.

In his action-packed Pace elimination — a complete contrast from the other elimination — Nijinsky rolled up on the outside following the cover of Captain Albano and cleared to the front past a :53.1 half mile, two full seconds quicker than the preceding elimination race and nearly a full second quicker than the Graduate Pace for 4-year-olds two races later.

Once up front, Nijinsky was confronted by the fresh big money private purchase and new acquisition of the Andrew Harris barn, Funtime Bayama. Those two went head-to-head from the three-quarter mark onward and at one point it looked like Funtime Bayama may have poked a nose in front. But Nijinsky was able to repel that challenge through the stretch and gradually pulled away towards the end to win by three-quarters with a last quarter in :26.2. Left uncovered earlier in the mile from when Nijinsky crossed over to the lead, Funtime Bayama essentially raced equally as brave, made a strong account for himself in his debut for the new connections and certainly is one of a few that could win the Pace final depending on the trip.

One final note from the elimination won by Nijinsky was the performance of Captain Luke. Dismissed at 16-1 from the outside post 8, he flashed that early speed he’s capable of and made the lead probably within the first eighth-of-a-mile and led past that sharp :25.4 opening quarter. Despite being used hard and terribly shuffled back to seventh, he was able to somehow close willingly to get back to fourth with a :26.4 final quarter and comfortably make the final. He’s another that can win.

The elimination won by Legendary Hanover was just as formful and much less eventful than the second one, but that was predictable, and all the top-finishers got out of that race precisely what they were looking for.

For Legendary Hanover who was coming off a tough first-over trip in the North America Cup, he was able to sit third without having to do anything until the top of the lane, and once asked he was able to close in :24.4 to outkick both leading two horses who had it just as easy. That final quarter was faster than both pocket-sitting Gem Quality (:25.1) and pace setter Mirage Hanover who closed in “only” :25.2 – he had been made the 6-5 elimination favorite in part due to his final quarter of :24.3 when he tracked down Captain Luke in a 3YO open the week prior. North America Cup race favorite and eventual runner-up to Nijinsky, Captain’s Quarters saved all his energy for a single :24.4 final quarter burst in that Pace elimination and is another that looks good to go for the final.

A couple finalists whose stock may have fallen a touch since May could be that of Gem Quality and Captain Albano, last year’s Breeders Crown winner and divisional champion, respectively. That may be harsh considering Gem Quality was only a length-and-a-half down in his elimination and Captain Albano too was third in his elimination, but you get the sense there are a couple sharper at the moment.

In an email, a friend of mine pondered if the early start of the PA-sire stakes races, which for 3-year-old colt pacers began on May 4, posed a challenge for some of the horses such as Gem Quality, Captain Albano and others, having to be used too hard too early in early season attempts to gain valuable sire stake points for later. To that point, it does at least raise the question if for example, the May 26 PASS race where Captain Albano went in 1:49.4 at Pocono to beat Gem Quality, if that and similar races can take a toll.

Building from Debbie Little’s columnfrom Friday, it seemed increasingly likely Dexter Dunn would opt to drive Funtime Bayama in the upcoming Pace final — and that is exactly what he decided, even though both horses drew well. As Little noted, Dunn won last year’s Breeders Crown with Gem Quality and he likely debated wheter to take that one for the other Chris Ryder-trained horses that Dunn has driven and continues to drive. In the end, Funtime Bayama showed enough to retain Dunn for the final.

As of this moment, I’d say my top five in no particular order are down to Captain Luke, Captain’s Quarters, Nijinsky, Funtime Bayama and Legendary Hanover. A final prediction will come Friday.


This is the field for Saturday (July 13) night’s $650,000 Meadowlands Pace, a 3-year-old open pace, with post position, horse, driver, trainer and morning-line odds:


1. Its Saturday Night – Andrew McCarthy – Nifty Norman – 20-1

2. Funtime Bayama – Dexter Dunn – Andrew Harris – 7-2

3. Nijinsky – Louis Roy – Anthony Beaton – 2-1

4. Mirage Hanover – Tim Tetrick – Jake Leamon – 9-2

5. Gem Quality – Yannick Gingras – Chris Ryder – 10-1

6. Legendary Hanover – James MacDonald – Anthony Beaton – 3-1

7. Captain Albano – Todd McCarthy – Noel Daley – 5-1

8. Captain Luke – Scott Zeron – Tony Alagna – 15-1

9. Captain’s Quarters – Jody Jamieson – Herb Holland – 8-1

10. Number Cruncher – Jordan Stratton – Erv Miller – 20-1

Post time for The Pace, which is race 11 on the program, is 10:43 p.m.