“Last year was probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever had in racing. It was definitely a bitter pill to swallow.”
When Muscle Network races Friday night (April 24) at the Meadowlands, it will mark the first start of the horse’s four-year-old season, but more importantly, it will serve as the first step in what his owner, Joe Bellino hopes will be his road to redemption.
Muscle Network set a world record as a two-year-old when he won the International Stallion Stake at Lexington in 1:53.2. He ended his season with an upset victory in the $494,750 Valley Victory over Nuncio, who would go on to win two-thirds of the Trotting Triple Crown last year.
“He’s probably the best trotter I’ve ever owned by far,” continued Bellino. “We really thought that he would be one of the top three three-year-olds last season.”
Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Muscle Network suffered through a series of nagging injuries and underwent surgical procedures on his knees. He made only three starts and earned $5,580.
After spending the winter in Florida with trainer Ake Svanstedt, Muscle Network appears to be headed in the right direction. He qualified twice at the Meadowlands, including a second-place finish last week behind the top trotter Meladys Monet.
“We were all very, very happy with his qualifiers,” explained Bellino. “He’s huge, he’s muscular, and he’s beautiful. He’s a totally different horse than he was. Now, hopefully he races as good as he looks.”
Muscle Network is now trained by Tony O’Sullivan, who was also the trotter's trainer for the majority of his two-year-old season. Muscle Network has been made eligible to most of the sport’s top trotting races, including the TVG Free For All Series and premier four-year-old restricted races including The Graduate Series and Hambletonian Maturity.
Friday’s 13-race card also features a pair of carryovers in the Jackpot Super High 5 wagers. The fifth race carryover has grown to $87,136 and the thirteenth race carryover sits at $58,172.
(with files from The Meadowlands)