Jimmy Takter believes Rockin Image is the best three-year-old pacer in the country. He hopes on Saturday night that the nation sees what he sees.
Rockin Image is among the 10 finalists in Saturday’s $1 million Meadowlands Pace at Meadowlands Racetrack. The colt enters the race coming off a two length win over I’m Gorgeous in 1:48.4 in his elimination race. He has won back-to-back starts after opening the year with three losses while battling breathing issues.
Takter, best known for his work with trotters, is making his second consecutive appearance in the Meadowlands Pace final. He finished second with Vintage Master last season.
Rockin Image is owned by Sue Grange’s Lothlorien stable. Grange co-owned last year’s Meadowlands Pace winner Well Said.
“I was always cocky about this horse,” Takter said about Rockin Image, who is a son of 2005 Meadowlands Pace winner Rocknroll Hanover, out of Kikikatie (who was the 2003 two-year-old filly division champion). “I’ve always said he’s the best three-year-old in the country. And I believe that. I believe he is the best horse in the country.
“He had the (breathing) trouble that hopefully we got taken care of. I trained this horse in 1:49.3 on my farm and he couldn’t breathe the last three-eighths. That’s like a (1):46 mile at the Meadowlands. I think he can go fast. I think he can do a little dirty job. It’s not necessary for him to get the trip. Ability and gait wise, pedigree, the whole package is there.”
Last year, Rockin Image won divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion stakes. This year, he finished sixth in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final on May 29, and then had surgery to correct the breathing problem and was out of action (other than one qualifier) until the Jersey Cup on July 3. He won by 1-1/2 lengths over Nova Artist in 1:48.2.
The time away from the races cost Rockin Image a chance to compete in the $1.5 million North America Cup, but might be a blessing now.
“Maybe it was for the best,” Takter said. “I think he’s probably the freshest horse going into the race.”
Rockin Image, driven by Yannick Gingras, also might have benefited from a less stressful elimination than rivals Rock N Roll Heaven, who won in 1:47.3, and OK Commander, who won in 1:47.4.
“I liked what I saw,” said Takter, who missed the elim because he was at Yonkers Raceway for the Yonkers Trot, which he won with On The Tab. “He got a little lucky; I like to be lucky. He probably got the softest of the three (eliminations) and I think he was the one that wasn’t pushed at all. The others had to go pretty hard. Yannick said he felt like he had a ton of horse left. It’s always good when you don’t have to drain them.”
Takter could become the sixth trainer to win both of the Meadowlands’ million-dollar stakes -- the Meadowlands Pace and the Hambletonian. The others are Steve Elliott, Blair Burgess, Chuck Sylvester, Bill Haughton and Ray Remmen. Takter won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man.
His success with trotters saw him train three consecutive Horse of the Year winners: Malabar Man in 1997 and Moni Maker in 1998 and 1999. Twice he has been honored by the U.S. Harness Writers Association as the Trainer of the Year.
Takter’s stable won a career-best $6.2 million in 2009 and he ranked third in North American earnings despite having fewer starts than any other trainer in the Top 10. He had 10 different horses -- six trotters and four pacers -- win races of $100,000 or more, led by multiple stakes-winners Vintage Master and Costa Rica. He won Triple Crown races on both the trot (Judge Joe in the Yonkers Trot) and the pace (Vintage Master in the Cane Pace).
Now, he hopes for Rockin Image to show everyone his talents in the Meadowlands Pace.
“It’s going to be a wide-open race,” Takter said. “I think five or six horses have a shot to win it. I expect people to be very aggressive. These races are exciting. I’m very excited about the race.”
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.