Peter Haughton Memorial and Merrie Annabelle hopefuls invaded Meadowlands Racetrack on Friday evening to compete in eliminations for the Hambletonian Day stakes, with one two-year-old setting a new track record.
Two-year-old trotting colt Centurion Atm and trainer/driver Ake Svanstedt took over the command entering the stretch as the leader broke stride and drew off to win the $20,000 elimination for Hambletonian Day's Peter Haughton Memorial.
Amicus (Mike Lachance), another Svanstedt trainee, established the early lead over Special Action (Yannick Gingras) and Centurion Atm through a :28.1 first quarter while The Bank (Johnny Takter), parked out from the start, was advancing. The Bank eventually cleared to command at the half, clocked in :57.2, and continued to three-quarters in 1:26.2. Meanwhile, Svanstedt made his move with Centurion Atm going first over and began to edge by the leader as they turned for home. The Bank broke stride and moved inside the safety lane leaving Centurion Atm home free. He drew off by three and a half lengths to win in 1:54.2. Uncle Lasse (Ron Pierce) and Cruzado Dela Noche (David Miller) came on for second and third, respectively.
The top seven finishers will advance to the $355,500 final and also include Gifted Way (Scott Zeron), SS Poseidon (Marcus Miller), Special Action, and Amicus. Canepa Hanover, Guess Whos Back and Honor And Serve will join those colts and geldings in the final having earned byes as the season's top earners.
"The horses here [race] much earlier than in Sweden," noted Svanstedt when asked about training a yearling to race as a two-year-old.
Centurion Atm earned his first career win following a pair of runner-up finishes in Pennsylvania stakes. The Sjs Caviar-Ens Tag Session colt was a $100,000 yearling at the Harrisburg Sale and is a full brother to Triumphant Caviar ($811,547 - 1:51.4) and half-sibling to Prayer Session ($547,271 - 1:53.2).
"He's done everything right from the beginning," said Svanstedt.
Centurion Atm is owned by Courant Ab of Stockholm, Sweden and Knutsson Trotting Inc. of Vero Beach, Florida.
Svanstedt also provided an update on Maple Leaf Trot runner-up Sebastian K and Hambletonian Maturity champion Your So Vain heading into tomorrow night's John Cashman Memorial Trot eliminations.
"He looks good," said Svandstedt of Sebastian K. "He just took it easy this week and I hope he can race good again."
"He's going a couple of weeks and he trained normal," he said of Your So Vain.
Two-year-old trotting fillies also faced off in two eliminations for the Merrie Annabelle this evening with the top five finishers advancing to the final.
In the first elimination, Lock Down Lindy swept by in the stretch off a perfect second over trip to prevail for driver Scott Zeron.
Lilu Hanover (Johnny Takter) and stablemate Smexi (Yannick Gingras) traded turns on top early on before Gatka Hanover (Matt Kakaley) brushed wide and swept to the lead just past the :29.2 first quarter mark. 'Gatka' trotted on to the half in :58.1 and three-quarters in 1:26.4 while Wordie Hanover (Corey Callahan) began to advance first over from fifth. Zeron and Lock Down Lindy followed 'Wordie's cover and kicked home in :27.1 to collar the leading Gatka Hanover in the stretch for the half-length victory in 1:55 flat. Love Me Madly slipped up the pylons to grab third-place honours while Lilu Hanover and Wordie Hanover rounded out the top five finishers.
"She just has the will to win," noted winning trainer Tony Alagna. "She really likes to track down horses. She's sensible and we've just been very happy with her all the way through."
The Lucky Chucky-Love Lockdown filly is owned by Mystical Marker Farms of Dyer, Indiana, Crawford Partners of Syracuse, New York, Joe Sbrocco of Brecksville, Ohio and In The Gym Partners of Staten Island, New York. Purchased for $40,000 at the Lexington Select Sale as a yearling, she was third in her New York Sire Stakes debut at Vernon Downs before scoring a maiden-breaking victory last Friday at The Big M in a two-year-old race.
"I think he [sire Lucky Chucky] is going to be okay," said Alagna when asked about her sire's first crop of offspring. "He had a couple of Sire Stakes winners tonight at Yonkers. This filly, we've been very high on all winter. I remember last year people said Muscle Hill wasn't going to be a sire in July and I think he's proven them all wrong now and I think this horse will follow the same pattern."
Alagna also shared an update on his stable star Captaintreacherous, who finished third in the William Haughton Memorial on July 12 and will race in Saturday's Free-For-All.
"I was extremely happy with his race last week," said Alagna. "He never really got much of a break, he got a little bit of a third quarter breather, but had a horse pressuring him the whole way. He had a great week and I look for a good race for him tomorrow and on Hambo day."
Mission Brief lowered the two-year-old filly track record with a dominant 1:53.2 triumph in the second elimination for driver Yannick Gingras.
She shaved one-fifth of a second off the record, which she had matched with a 13-plus length victory in the New Jersey Sire Stakes Final on July 12. Shake It Cerry originally set the record last year in the Merrie Annabelle final.
Mission Brief cleared to command at the :28.1 first quarter and never looked back. She led the way past the half in :56.4 and three-quarters in 1:25.4 before turning for home with no real threats in sight. She was a wrapped up five and a half length winner. Jolene Jolene (David Miller) came on for second and Onda Di Mare (Tim Tetrick) finished third. Pocket-sitter Flirting Filly (Ron Pierce) finished fourth, but was disqualified as the judges ruled she left the course, gaining an unfair advantage while going inside four pylons. Livininthefastlane (Brian Sears) and Flirting Filly's stablemate Sarcy (Johnny Takter) moved into fourth and fifth, respectively, to advance to the final.
"She was much more relaxed tonight," noted Gingras after the race. "Even in the post parade she let me jog her around there slowly and I was very happy with that obviously. In the race, we went :28 to the quarter, but she was rateable tonight. Last week she was kind of loose, but they've done a good job with her trying to calm her down and she's getting better and better...She's figuring things out and I'm figuring her out."
A $150,000 Lexington Select Sale purchase, Mission Brief is sired by Muscle Hill and out of Southwind Serena, who provided Gingras with his first Breeders Crown in 2007.
"Southwind Serena gave me a great thrill, but she was nothing like this filly," said Gingras. "She beat Pampered Princess with a perfect trip. She was a big, strong mare, just her attitude was left to be desired, but this filly has it all. She's got tremendous speed and she's got a good attitude."
Ron Burke trains Mission Brief, who is now three-for-four in her career, for his Burke Racing Stable of Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, Our Horse Cents Stables of Clifton Park, New York, J And T Silva Stables of Long Beach, New York and Weaver Bruscemi of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
Gingras also commented on Hambletonian favourite Father Patrick.
"Jimmy [Takter] said he's really, really good," said Gingras. "He's going to qualify tomorrow -- go a mile in :53, :54 or something like that. Fingers crossed for next week."
Also on Friday's card was the $20,000 second leg of the Ima Lula Series for mare trotters aged four years old and Classic Martine was a courageous winner in 1:51.2 for driver Tim Tetrick.
Bee A Magician (Brian Sears) asserted herself from rail position and insisted on the lead early, forcing leavers NF Happenstance (Jack Parker Jr.) and Classic Martine to take a tuck toward the :26.4 quarter. Sears was able to give his charge a nice breather in the middle half (:56.2, 1:24.3) as Tetrick moved Classic Martine to the outside for a long, uncovered grind. When the two met in mid-stretch, it was Classic Martine with more and she edged clear late, tacking a :26.4 final quarter on the mile, which was a mere fifth of a second from Bee A Magician’s world record of a fortnight ago. Bee A Magician finished one and a half lengths behind with NF Happenstance third.
The winner has now won six of eight starts for earnings of $219,150 and has the five-eighths mile world record of 1:51.2 on her resume this season. She is trained in the Chris Oakes stable for Hauser Bros Racing of Orangeburg, New York, Susan Oakes of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Conrad Zurich of Fayetteville, New York, and Ed Gold of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
The Friday race card was called "Cat Manzi Night" as the East Rutherford, New Jersey track honoured the Hall of Famer who announced his retirement from driving earlier this year.
Manzi, a winner of 14,812 races, appeared on The Meadowlands in-house and simulcast pre-game show “In The Sulky,” and signed autographs for his fans. The “Cat Man” also made the winner’s circle presentation for the sixth race, $30,000 Free For All Handicap Trot, which was won by Not Afraid in 1:51.2 by a nose over Dorsay. Ron Pierce drove the front-stepping winner for Jimmy Takter and owners Christina Takter of East Windsor, New Jersey, John Fielding of Toronto, Ont., and Goran N Anderberg of Malmo, Sweden.
The night began with the well-bred three-year-old trotting colt Royal Ice taking advantage of an absolutely delightful evening to break his maiden in a dazzling 1:51.3. Only Hollywood Heyden might be able to intelligently address the topic, but it’s fairly safe to say that was the fastest any trotter has ever left the maiden ranks.
Gingras was aboard for the first time on the son of Muscle Hill out of The Ice Queen and he just went to the front and improved his position to an eventual eight length victory. Trond Smedshammer trains the colt, who may have just become an instant Hambletonian contender, for Marc Goldberg.
An added bonus after race two was the second leg of the Racing Under Saddle Series with seven trotters facing starter Danny Dale for a $10,000 purse. Stephanie Werder has come from her native Sweden to compete in the series, which culminates with a $28,000 final next Friday, and she rode her mount O U Gus to a 1:59.4 win in tonight’s race.
Werder sat just behind the lead of Chinese Cuisine and Tina Duer and was patient when one of last week’s winners, Flowing James and Tara Hynes, moved swiftly toward the lead and sat quietly until an opening appeared mid-stretch for the win. Flowing James held second while Bambino Hall and Stephanie Jacobs rallied to be third.
(With files from Meadowlands Racetrack)