Scott Zeron earned the sixth Breeders Crown trophy of his career this past weekend when he guided Treacherous Dragon to victory for trainer Nancy Takter in the final for three-year-old female pacers at Woodbine Mohawk Park, with the emphasis on “earned.”
Zeron was sidelined for 10 weeks following an accident on July 26 that left the 33-year-old driver with a fractured pelvis, fractured wrist and dislocated shoulder. He thought he would be unable to return to action in time for the Breeders Crown but made it back to the races on Oct. 8 at Lexington’s Red Mile to help set up his Crown opportunities.
And Zeron was appreciative of those who provided those chances.
“I worked hard to get to where I am,” said Zeron. “But it’s also the support. If roles were reversed, I don’t know how much I would want a guy that had been out for 10 weeks. Even though I’ve had success in a lot of Grand Circuit races, people might question if I was ready.
“To give me the horses I got, and I’m not going to say just Treacherous Dragon because I drove five really top-notch Breeders Crown horses, to get that support was a little surprising, but I was super grateful for it. The support, even when I was injured, and on my return was very overwhelming.”
Zeron’s recovery progressed in stages, with the wrist taking the most time to improve. Once healed, he also needed to rebuild his strength after a long period of inactivity.
“When you’re recovering, you’re not exercising, you’re not getting to the gym, so you’re not really in great shape,” said Zeron. “Watching muscle deteriorate, and then building it back with the smallest of small exercise, is quite humbling. But on the whole, the strength has come back quicker than I imagined.”
Zeron headed to the Red Mile with his racing gear but was uncertain whether he would drive. After a talk with fellow driver Mark MacDonald, he decided to give it a go the last weekend of the track’s Grand Circuit meet.
“He told me, ‘I’ve broken every bone in my body, and you might not think you’re ready, but you are, so get out there and trust me, the best thing you can do is drive on the weekend.’ That’s when I kind of decided to do it,” said Zeron.
“All week I was jogging and training horses for Linda Toscano, so I was trying to get reps in and see where I felt comfortable and where there were things to work on. It was probably instrumental that I came back when the Red Mile was still racing. I got to sit behind some really nice horses and that really helped. That’s also when I trained Treacherous Dragon, at the Red Mile. That was my audition.”
Having passed the audition, Zeron drove Treacherous Dragon in a qualifier before making his first official start with the filly in the Breeders Crown final (there were no eliminations). The duo’s 1:49.1 victory was just one-fifth of a second off the stakes record.
“It was extremely exciting to get to the winner’s circle,” said Zeron.
Zeron, who got his first Breeders Crown in 2016 with Call Me Queen Be, has won at least one trophy in three consecutive years. None of his six Breeders Crown winners was a favourite and he pulled off the biggest upset in Crown history in 2020 with Sandbetweenmytoes at odds of nearly 204-1.
“That’s funny,” said Zeron. “Some of them were favourites in my mind.”
Three years ago, Todd McCarthy made multiple trips to the Woodbine Mohawk Park winner’s circle to celebrate Breeders Crown victories by his brother Andy, who captured four trophies during the championship weekend. Todd, who was visiting from his native Australia, soon thereafter decided he wanted to move to the U.S. to continue his own driving career, which he did the following summer.
This past Saturday, McCarthy visited the Mohawk winner’s circle again. He drove three-year-old male pacer Pebble Beach to victory for trainer Noel Daley, giving McCarthy his first Breeders Crown.
“I still pinch myself,” said McCarthy. “It’s just a dream come true since making the move. I’ve got people like this to thank for it; fantastic syndicates of owners and trainers like Noel here who have been willing to give me a shot since I’ve arrived.”
Pebble Beach improved to 5-0 lifetime at Mohawk, with his previous victories including the North America Cup. The colt had a stretch of five consecutive second-place finishes at Lexington’s Red Mile but saw a victory there in the Tattersalls Pace send him to Mohawk on a winning note.
“They questioned Pebble, and he did hit a soft spot, and I think most of it was because of Lasix [not being permitted in Kentucky],” said co-owner James Koehler II. “I think he likes to race at night and he’s just been phenomenal on this track. I don’t think anyone can beat him right now.”
Koehler also was among the owners of Pebble Beach’s sire, Downbytheseaside. Koehler resides in Ohio, where Downbytheseaside stands as a stallion.
“Downbytheseaside did not win the North America Cup and he did not win the Breeders Crown, so to see one of his offspring do it is the greatest present ever,” said Koehler. “To see Ohio to start to be on the national stage and be able to compete, I’m very happy.”
King Of The North’s 1:50.3 win in the Breeders Crown for three-year-old male trotters put him not only in the record books — the time established a Canadian and stakes record — but also in elite company.
The colt became the eighth male trotter to be named a Dan Patch Award winner at age two and return to win a Breeders Crown at age three. The list features five Hall of Famers — Baltic Speed, Mack Lobell, Malabar Man, Muscle Hill and Father Patrick — as well as millionaire Firm Tribute and three-time Crown champ Gimpanzee.
King Of The North gave Ray Schnittker his fourth Breeders Crown as a trainer and as an owner, and his second as a breeder. He also gave driver Mark MacDonald his fourth trophy. The colt went over the career million-dollar-mark with his triumph, which helped erase a slow start to the season.
“He just looked like he was an ordinary horse,” said Schnittker. “Now it looks like he’s popping through and showing what I really thought he was.”
The top-three finishers in the Breeders Crown for three-year-old female trotters were the same top three in the Breeders Crown for two-year-olds a year ago, albeit in a different order.
Jiggy Jog S, who was third in 2021, came away with the Canadian record-setting victory this season. Raised By Lindy finished second for the second time and last year’s winner, Joviality S, was third.
The win made Jiggy Jog S a career millionaire.
“She was great,” said winning driver Dexter Dunn, who was in the sulky for trainer Ake Svanstedt. “She was so good [in her elimination] last week and it gave me a lot of confidence coming into [the final]. We got away pretty handy, but I had Joviality on my back, so I was always worried about that. But my filly was just extremely strong.”
(USTA; Top photos by New Image Media, clockwise from top left: Pebble Beach, King Of The North, Jiggy Jog S and Treacherous Dragon)