The 5-year-old trotting gelding Blacktuxwhitesocks will be looking for his 20th North American win on Hambletonian Day (August 4) at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The winner of $716,025, who has been racing and winning the Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers recently, will trade his sulky for a saddle, as he is expected to start in a $15,000 non-betting race for trotters under saddle.
Under saddle races, most often called monte races, are popular throughout Europe, with full betting options and large purses. Many horses compete in both driving and riding races. There have been only a handful of under saddle races in the U.S., but the USTA is now licensing riders and sanctioning races.
Trond Smedshammer, who trains Blacktuxwhitesocks for owner Purple Haze Stables, is taking the race very seriously.
"The best rider in Norway is coming to ride Blacktuxwhitesocks," he says of the engagement of 23-year-old Malin Berås to ride. "It's kind of a fun thing, I thought, to do. When they were talking about having this race, I thought, ‘Maybe not.' But then I thought that would be good. I said I want somebody good to ride him and I think he's got a shot of breaking the record. That's kind of what I'm aiming to do. I want to go faster than Moni Maker."
Smedshammer is referring to the overall world record for trotting under saddle of 1:54.1, set by 1998 and 1999 Horse of the Year Moni Maker. The record, set in a time trial at The Red Mile on October 6, 2000, was accomplished with Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone riding. Trainer Jimmy Takter and regular driver Wally Hennessey were driving the prompters. The mile can be seen here.
USTA Perfect Together: Moni Maker and Julie Krone Part 2
Smedshammer thinks Berås will give Blacktuxwhitesocks a shot at the mark. He has a mark of 1:53.1, taken this year. August 4 will be his first start under saddle. Moni Maker's mark in the sulky was 1:52.1, a full two seconds faster than her mark under saddle.
"She's very good," he said of Berås. "I saw her ride in Norway a couple times when I've been over there with Arch Madness. She's very good, a very good rider. She won the Norwegian championship two or three weeks ago. She's very excited about it (riding in the United States)."
The Norwegian-born Smedshammer would like to see more under saddle competition for North American trotters.
"I hope so," he said. "It's very entertaining to watch, but it's not going to get to the level of competition in Norway and Sweden right away -- you'll have spread out fields. But they have very competitive races, very exciting to watch. They bet just as much on them. I like it. I think it will be a good thing to get started here and I hope they can kick it off."
While the riders in the under saddle races to date have been heavily female, Smedshammer thinks there is room for equal opportunity.
"Some of the guys that are small enough, like (Ray) Schnittker, even a guy like (Ron) Pierce, he used to be a rider. It would be fun to see some of the drivers get up in the saddle."
by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications