Day At The Track

Unbeaten American Courage goes at Yonkers

12:21 AM 19 Aug 2020 NZST
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American Courage, harness racing
American Courage in prior win
Melissa Simser-Iovino photo

YONKERS, N.Y. - “He gives me a sense of something special.”

That’s how Matt Kakaley describes American Courage, a 2-year-old colt who’s undefeated in six starts, all with Kakaley in the sulky, including the elimination and final of the MGM Springfield Stakes at Yonkers Raceway and three legs of the New York Sire Stakes. The pair will put their win streak on the line again Tuesday night (Aug. 18) at Yonkers in the fourth leg of the NYSS for freshman pacers.

Kakaley first heard about American Courage from trainer Travis Alexander while the colt was still training in Florida, with the conditioner indicating, ‘he thought he had a pretty nice colt.’ Kakaley, who is based in Pennsylvania, intended to travel to the Sunshine State to train American Courage, but never got the chance once the coronavirus pandemic effectively halted travel throughout the United States in mid-March. 

Once American Courage shipped north for the racing season, Kakaley trained American Courage twice, once at the farm and again at Pocono Downs.

“He was nice, but I don’t try to get too high on them when they’re training down because they’ll prove us wrong more times than not,” Kakaley said. “He was smart on the track. The one time I trained him at the farm, he could just sprint out of a hole real quick, no problem. Good gait. Everything was good about him, there wasn’t really any knocks about him. He was a professional to sit behind, he was good like that right from the beginning.”

American Courage qualified June 24 at Pocono Downs. The colt raced in third throughout before charging home with a :29 final quarter to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:57.2.

“The qualifier, he was good, he wasn’t great,” Kakaley said. “He had an ear hood on and he was really quiet. He was good, not great, but I was very happy with him, it was a perfect first qualifier for him.”

Alexander entered American Courage in a $10,400 overnight at Pocono June 30 and the race proved eventful. Starting from post six, American Courage kept about a half-length off the starting gate and took back into fifth early as rivals Big Luciano and Sir Lovealot BC battled through a :27.1 quarter. 

American Courage angled first over at the half, but was soon forced three-wide as 50-1 Spellbinding pulled in front of him nearing the backstretch. Kakaley took back, then sent American Courage three-wide again up the backstretch. American Courage put a head in front of Big Luciano by the three-quarter pole and kicked away in the stretch under Kakaley pistol grips to win by 6 lengths in 1:54.1. 

“I just wanted to get away in mid-pack, make one run with him, and try to give him a good learning experience and teach him a little bit,” Kakaley said. “It was kind of a messed-up race and for him to handle the whole thing the way he did, I came off the track and I told Travis, ‘he’s better than I thought he was.’ Travis never really gave me a notion that he was really high on him because I don’t think he wanted to get let down if something happened with him.

“I got shoved three-wide at the half, someone came out underneath me. I backed up, waited a little bit and then swung him three-wide around the three-eighths pole and he cleared in three steps,” Kakaley continued. “He just did it really good and professional. The way he handled a horse coming out underneath him, me grabbing him up, and then starting him back up, I was very impressed that day.”

American Courage aired by 7 1/4 lengths in his elimination of the MGM Springfield Stakes in his next start July 6 and returned for the $104,250 final a week later. After settling in fourth around the first turn, Kakaley gunned 2-5 favorite American Courage to the front up the backstretch, pocketing 5-1 shot Town Gossip and driver Joe Bongiorno. The backfield failed to make an impression and American Courage rounded the final turn with Town Gossip breathing down his neck.

“The only time anyone has really gotten close was the final of the Springfield,” Kakaley said. “That was the only time I popped the ear plugs. Joey was right on my back on the last turn, I pulled the plugs out at the top of the stretch and I thought it was going to be a really tight finish, but he just hit another gear halfway down the stretch.”

While Town Gossip was all-out down the lane, Kakaley gave American Courage a few whip-taps at the top of the stretch and again halfway to the wire. Although Town Gossip got within a half-length, he never went by. The pair were 6 3/4-lenghts in front of the third-place finisher Crystal Beach in a 1:53.3 mile.

“After the wire, he wasn’t even done then. He was just going around there and when I asked him for some pace, he gave it to me and I was never worried. He was super,” Kakaley said.

Since the MGM Springfield Final, American Courage rattled off three more wins in NYSS; he won at Saratoga in 1:54.3 by 6 3/4 lengths, paced 1:51.3 at Tioga while winning by 4 1/4, and most recently posted a 1:54.2 win by 10 1/2 lengths at Batavia Downs Aug. 9. American Courage has amassed $145,108 for owner and breeder Fiddler’s Creek Stable. 

American Courage is a son of American Ideal out of the Feel Like A Fool mare Nota Fool Bluechip, a full sister to millionaires Feel Like A Fool and Fool Me Once. Fiddler’s Creek Stable and Travis Alexander bought Nota Fool Bluechip at the 2014 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for $60,000. Although she only went 1-for-14 in her racing career, American Courage is her first foal to race. 

“It’s a special horse to be a part of. I thank Travis and I thank Fiddler’s Creek. It’s a great operation they have and they’ve spent a lot of time and put a lot of money breeding these horses,” Kakaley said. “He would go to the sales and keep the mares and breed them. I’m really happy for him because he deserves a horse like this for all the time and money he’s put into the business. He deserves to get rewarded with a horse like this.

“Travis and Alaina (Alexander) do a great job with him, they take great care of him,” Kakaley continued. “I think Alaina goes back and gives him a walk every night after dinner time just to spoil him a little bit. He’s a very cool horse, too. He’s very calm in the paddock, relaxed. He doesn’t get riled up or rattled by much and on the track, he’s all business. He’s what you want, for sure.”

American Courage is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the penultimate NYSS leg for 2-year-old colts and geldings Tuesday night. He will start from post four in a six-horse field that includes I’ll Drink To That, a $75,000 buy at the 2019 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for Craig Henderson and co-owners Lawrence Minowitz, Robert Mondillo, and Oompas Farm who enters off a 1:53.3 win in NYSS at Tioga Aug. 1. Dexter Dunn will drive I’ll Drink To That for trainer Chris Ryder. Bottle Rocket, Major Makeover, Sexy Blue Chip, and King James Express complete the lineup.

“I’ll just play it how it is,” Kakaley said. “If anybody is getting real crazy, I don’t need to be in any speed battle or anything like that. He’s a really good horse and he’ll let me do whatever I need to do. However it looks is what I’ll do. We’ll have him on the gate and figure it out from there. Just float him around and when it’s time to go, we’ll just hit the gas pedal.

Yonkers Raceway’s revised schedule features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, Friday nights through Sept. 12. First post time is 7:12 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.


by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY
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