Rock N Roll Heaven blazed a path to the $1 million Meadowlands Pace with a stunning 1:47.3 clocking in the first of three $50,000 elimination races on Saturday night in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Driven by John Campbell, Rock N Roll Heaven took command in a :26 opening quarter and spiraled through middle fractions of :53.4 and 1:21 en route to the fastest elimination win in Meadowlands Pace history. One More Laugh (Tim Tetrick) finished over one length behind in second, while Kyle Major (Jody Jamieson) was six lengths back in third. All Speed Hanover made a break before the start and could not recover enough to qualify for the final. Rock N Roll Heaven, trained by Bruce Saunders paid $5.80 to win.
"He was just stronger the whole mile [tonight]," Campbell said. "He felt good going into the last turn in the North America Cup, but he just didn't kick home like I thought he would. Tonight he was sharp right when he left and he felt strong the whole mile. Once he made the front I didn't get that much pressure and the eighth past the quarter I thought that was a good breather for him. He wasn't working that hard going that . He was pacing hard through the wire and he looked at something through the stretch so it wasn't like he was tired. I was chasing him because I wanted to make sure he won [and got the chance to pick his post for the final]."
Rock N Roll Heaven earned millionaire status with the victory. Originally a $57,000 yearling purchase, owner Frank Bellino of Bronxville, New York purchased Rock N Roll Heaven for an undisclosed sum last June. The son of Rocknroll Hanover-Artistic Vision captured the $220,000 Berry's Creek and $200,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Championship earlier in the season, but was beaten as the favourite in the North America Cup on June 26 at Mohawk.
"I honestly was shaking a little bit when John came across the finish line," Saunders said. "This is an absolutely sensational colt. He loves it here and doesn't have a lot of issues to be concerned with. He was great in Canada as a two-year-old. He just got off the railroad tracks a little bit up there and he wasn't on top of his game, but tonight he was. We were able to get him back and do some work on his respiratory system and he had a really good week.
"I thought this was a very stiff group of horses," Saunders added. "Ray [Schnittker]'s colt [One More Laugh] had no chance from the spot he was in. He was closing with a lot of enthusiasm, but my colt loves it on the front end and he does love it at home. He's a sensational athlete and he's got more moves than a cat. I wouldn't trade him for any of the other horses."
The front-end was also the place to be in the other two Pace eliminations. Rockin Image seized the lead before the half and drew off to a 1:48.4 score in the second elim for driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter. Im Gorgeous (Andy Miller) finished two lengths behind in second, while Nova Artist (Brian Sears) held on for third. Rockin Image returned $3.60 to win.
The colt had already stamped himself as a serious Pace contender with a dazzling 1:48.2 romp in the Jersey Cup in his start prior.
"Last week I didn't think I was going to have to put up those kinds of fractions, but Jimmy [Takter] told me he was ready," Gingras said. "He told me he had trained pretty fast at his farm and to give him a chance so I did, a little faster than I wanted to, but he proved he's a good colt. I tried to make it easy on him [tonight]. Winning the race was really important in order to get to pick our post position next week. We tried to take advantage of drawing into the easiest division. After last week's race I wasn't looking to put those kinds of fractions up again, so I got the lead and it was like a training mile for him tonight. I never even kicked the earplugs so he had plenty more."
Also a son of Rocknroll Hanover, Rockin Image has now won five of 13 career starts and $339,043. The colt is owned by Susan Grange's Lothlorien, co-owner of 2009 Meadowlands Pace champion Well Said.
OK Commander, with Brian Sears in the sulky, held off a late bid by Fred And Ginger (Dave Palone) to win the third Pace elimination by a neck in 1:47.4. Valentino (George Brennan) was third, while Sportswriter (Mark MacDonald) also qualified for the Pace final as the night's fastest fourth place finisher.
OK Commander posted his first win in seven starts this season for trainer Gregg McNair and owners William Switala and James Martin of Clarence Center, New York. Sent off at 9-1 in his Pace elim, the son of Art Major-Double Crème bred and raised by Ontario's Oak Knoll Stables paid $20.20 to win.
"[At the start of the race] I was going to try to push out of there as hard as I could, and if I could keep everyone settled down, I was going to try and cut it out," Sears said. "My horse felt really good. You've got to earn it out here, and my horse put up a good, game effort and I was really happy with it. [Fred And Ginger]'s a quality horse and he was coming up the inside, and had a nice two-hole trip, so my horse was real game [to hold him off]."
The elimination winners will select their starting posts for the $1 million Meadowlands Pace at a live draw held Wednesday, July 14. The field for the $1 million Meadowlands Pace on Saturday, July 17 (in alphabetical order):
Fred And Ginger, Dave Palone, Ron Burke
Im Gorgeous, Andy Miller, George Teague Jr.
Kyle Major, Jody Jamieson, Shawn Robinson
Nova Artist, TBA, Lou Pena
Ok Commander, Brian Sears, Gregg McNair
One More Laugh, Tim Tetrick, Ray Schnittker
Rock N Roll Heaven, John Campbell, Bruce Saunders
Rockin Image, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter
Sportswriter, Mark Macdonald, Casie Coleman
Valentino, George Brennan, Lou Pena
To view Saturday's results, click here.
(With files from Meadowlands Racetrack)