Day At The Track

Brett Pelling back in Breeders Crown

06:18 AM 26 Oct 2019 NZDT
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Brett Pelling, harness racing Papi Rob Hanover, harness racing
Brett Pelling
SLS Photo
Papi Rob Hanover
Chris Tully photo

Milton, ON - It hardly seems like 14 years has elapsed since Rocknroll Hanover captured the Breeders Crown sophomore pace at The Meadowlands in what at the time seemed like the final chapter in the ultra-successful North American harness racing training career of Brett Pelling.

Pelling was a dominant force on the East Coast and beyond from 1998 through 2005, the year Rocknroll Hanover held the spotlight in the premier division. In the Crown alone he captured 10 trophies and more than $3.8 million in earnings, ranking him high on the all-time trainers list.

That the New Zealand native chose to retire and return Down Under after that season caught some by surprise, but those that knew him and entrusted their horses to Pelling were not caught off guard.

"About a year before I made the move I let all of the owners know my intentions," Pelling said, recalling the lead-up to his early retirement. "It was the right thing to do and Nifty (Norman) and Noel (Daley) ended up with a lot of the horses."

When Pelling decided to return to North America in 2017 and re-launch his training career in New Jersey, he expected to find familiar faces and a reasonable opportunity to succeed. When that didn't immediately happen, Pelling was put in the position to purchase horses on his own or with minor partnerships to get up and running. That was two years ago and heading into this weekend's Breeders Crown finals Pelling may not be quite where he was when his stable averaged $5 million in earnings each year, but he still seems content.

"It's about quality, not quantity," Pelling said this week. "When the stable was at full strength we had about 50 horses racing and I would say another 15 possible horses that people were looking to give me."

Right now, Pelling trains 15 horses while hoping to add some yearlings in Harrisburg and perhaps lose a few at the mixed sale.

"A lot of the owners that were with me back then have moved on and invested with others in partnerships. I understand that completely," said Pelling.

One longtime owner, David McDuffee, won a Breeders Crown 3-year-old event some 23 years ago and hopes to again be in the winner's circle with Pelling this weekend.

"We go way back to Armbro Operative," said Pelling. "He's just a great guy and someone who really appreciates what it's like to have a top horse."

The top horse Pelling is referring to is Papi Rob Hanover. The Somebeachsomewhere-Panera Hanover colt captured the lone Breeders Crown elimination for 2-year-old male pacers last Friday, and in the process ended the unbeaten streak of Metro Pace winner Tall Dark Stranger. The victory, a mild upset for the bettors, offered Pelling and driver David Miller the results they were looking for.

"We had a bad post in the Metro final," said Pelling. "I could have taken the bye (in the Breeders Crown) but I didn't want that to happen again."

Papi Rob Hanover drew inside and landed post three for the final and that suits his trainer just fine.

"He's just the perfect horse," Pelling said of Papi Rob Hanover. "He's now gone every kind of trip and just performs to the highest level. A lot of people don't realize how difficult it is for a horse to make the kind of move he made last week. You're going a second quarter in :26 and change and there's really no way to slow down. The turn doesn't save you."

Papi Rob Hanover did continue at a torrid clip through three-quarters but unlike his Metro elimination race where Tall Dark Stranger sat in the pocket and rolled by, in the Crown elimination Papi Rob Hanover prevailed without being threatened in a career-best-equaling 1:50.2 clocking.

While many in the division were chasing some of the early stakes races, Pelling had a plan for Papi Rob Hanover - to have him ready for the Metro and beyond for this year.

"He's a good eater and was carrying a bit too much weight, I think, heading into the Metro. A lot of people were surprised when I shipped him home (to New Jersey) after the Metro elimination and then back for the final. The truth is I didn't want to have to work him very hard and I thought the ship would help him drop some weight," said Pelling.

The routine was not repeated after last week's victory, with Papi Rob Hanover remaining in Canada.

Rocknroll Hanover sired the dam of Papi Rob Hanover, and while there are some similarities between the two as juveniles, Papi Rob Hanover has been easier to deal with claims Pelling.

"I think if the horse has been on the racetrack 100 times this year I've probably only sat behind him 15 times," said Pelling. "I sit behind the horses that are having problems or need changes."

Winning this Crown is no doubt a big thing for the trainer.

"It's something you look forward to and no doubt a race that means a lot to me to win," said Pelling. "But to be honest, I hope he wins it for Dave McDuffee."

When Pelling left after 2005 many of his horses went to Norman and Daley. Last year when Noel Daley decided to go back home, he returned the favor in part and thus Pelling took over the training of Caviart Ally, second choice in Saturday's $300,000 Breeders Crown Mare Pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park. It's been a solid season for the 5-year-old daughter of Bettor's Delight with seven wins and seven seconds in 16 trips to post.

Caviart Ally has ended up on the short end of the stick against division leader and Horse of the Year contender Shartin N for most of the year. Pelling obviously doesn't see that much separating the two in talent, and recalls the battle the two waged in the Betsy Ross back in May at Harrah's Philadelphia as an epic struggle that perhaps left him and his mare frustrated for quite some time.

Driver Andrew McCarthy left out aggressively in the Betsy Ross to the tune of a :25.2 opening quarter forcing Shartin N to tuck in behind. With that accomplished, Caviart Ally was able to back peddle the second quarter in :30 and put the pocket sitter in a tough position. Tim Tetrick vacated the pocket with Shartin N and the two mares kicked a third quarter in :26.1, with neither giving ground. The war continued right to the finish wire with Shartin N winning by a neck in a 1:49.2 mile.

While Pelling always believed in Caviart Ally, the results week in and week out painted her as a bridesmaid until the two met again in the Allerage Farms Mare Pace at The Red Mile on Oct. 6. This time Caviart Ally drove past the pacesetting Shartin N to win in a 1:48.3 clocking.

"I wouldn't call it getting a monkey off my back," said Pelling of Caviart Ally's victory. "It was a gorilla."

Pelling has enormous respect for Shartin N and recognized the favorite on Saturday (post one) had not raced competitively in five weeks prior to the Allerage.

Ironically the two mares met last Friday in a qualifier at The Meadowlands. Pelling didn't seem too concerned that Shartin N won that event.

"I was happy with her qualifier," said Pelling of Caviart Ally's 1:51.2 clocking.

"It just worked out well for me logistically to have her down here and get work in. I'll go with her and ship up on Thursday (Oct. 24)."

Pelling hopes that it won't just be a two-mare battle in the Crown final.

"I think Youaremycandygirl and Kissin In The Sand are both top mares that will want to get involved," Pelling said.

Caviart Ally's last start at Woodbine Mohawk Park was a command performance victory in the Milton Stakes, where she scored in 1:48.3 with a final half in an eye-popping :53.3.

A lot has changed in harness racing since Brett Pelling last trained a Breeders Crown winner. One thing that has not is his dedication to the details and preparation.

He's come to the Crown with quality.

Breeders Crown finals for 2-year-olds are Friday at Mohawk. The finals for 3-year-olds and older horses are Saturday. Racing begins at 7 p.m. (EDT) both nights. The Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership is the presenting sponsor of this year's Breeders Crown.

For Friday's entries, click here. For Saturday's entries, click here.

by Jay Bergman, for the Breeders Crown

 

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