Day At The Track

Christen Me to make Yonkers debut

03:18 AM 01 Oct 2017 NZDT
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Christen Me N, Harness Racing
Christen Me N winning at Harrington
Foto Won Photo

YONKERS, N.Y. - Christen Me, the multiple grouped harness racing stakes winner and earner of more than $2 million, will make his first start at Yonkers Raceway in Saturday night’s Open Handicap Pace. The veteran New Zealand-bred was assigned the coveted inside post position in the field that includes The Real One, who seeks his third straight Open victory from post eight, millionaire Sunfire Blue Chip, and YS Lotus, who seeks his fifth straight win.

After amassing 10 Group 1 victories in Australia and New Zealand, including the Miracle Mile and Victoria Cup, and earning $1.9 million for trainer Cran Dalgety, United States-based owners Rich and Donna Poillucci bought 9-year-old Christen Me earlier this year. The purchase came to the surprise of trainer Jim King, Jr.

“He just called one day and said, ‘how about this horse?’ He said, ‘well, I bought him.’ They pick out their own and basically, they just send them.”

Although King didn’t know much about Christen Me when he arrived, he soon learned from his fellow trainers and the public that he was involved with something special.

“Whenever anything is done, social media, they just respond to him like crazy. He was pretty famous down there,” King said. “I have a lot of friends and associates that are from down there that are here now. They all said, ‘you’re getting who? What?’ ”

Christen Me finished fourth in the Group 3 The Founders 1700 Pace in his final New Zealand start March 3. Christen Me recorded his first victory since May 2016 in his debut for King in an overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia May 14. Christen Me then finished third in a preferred at The Meadowlands May 21, pacing a final quarter of : 25.2.

“We were quite impressed with him,” King said. “He’s still got the talent, that’s for sure, even though he’s got a little age. He’s still got the talent and the desire.”

Christen Me continued to race well, finishing third in the $150,000 Stafford Invitational at Harrah’s. He paced 1:48.2 with a :25.3 final quarter in a preferred at the same venue next out before finishing eighth in the $100,000 Mohawk Gold Cup June 17. After that race, King felt Christen Me wasn’t healthy and gave the gelding a break.

“Instead of going excessive with antibiotics and stuff, we give him time,” he explained. “That seems to be what he’s had a lot of during his life because he came here 9 years old with 68 lifetime starts. That’s not many for a horse of that age. I think they had some issues down there with him. He wouldn’t stay healthy because he would bleed and they don’t have the use of lasix down there. That helped make the decision to bring him here.”

Although he wasn’t racing, Christen Me didn’t spend much time away from the track. King, who trains with wife Joann, kept Christen Me in light training throughout the summer. That’s the way the “old pro” likes it, said King, who added that Christen Me is good-headed and nice to work around for caretaker Kate Moore.

“It’s not like he’s just out in the field and stays there. He’s not that comfortable out by himself for one thing, but we turn horses out real early in the morning before the sun comes up,” he said. “He always stays busy. Even his down time, he’s still in training. We tow him some. Put the lead shank on him and when you’re jogging another one, take him with you. When we back off on him, that’s all we do is back off, we don’t stop.”

Christen Me resurfaced in a qualifier at Harrah’s August 1. He won in wire-to-wire fashion in 1:54.0 and returned the following week to win another trial the same way in 1:52.4. King qualified Christen Me a final time at Harrah’s September 12. With Tim Tetrick in the bike, Christen Me won in 1:53.4 with a :26.3 final quarter.

“We were just trying to get him back ready. When he goes, of course he’s got to go with the best and a horse like him, you can’t really race into shape. There’s a lot that’s expected of him. First start out of the box, they’re expected to be ready to go,” King said. “We were satisfied with his first qualifier, but his second qualifier was just much, much better. Tim got off and said, ‘this horse needs to go somewhere. He wants to race.’ His determination is just crazy good.”

King chose the Open Handicap at Harrington Raceway September 18 for Christen Me’s return. With Tim Tetrick unavailable, King turned to Jordan Stratton, who was in town for the Quillen Memorial.

“I texted (Jordan) and told him to give me a call when he had a chance. No quicker than I pushed the button did he answer me back,” King said. “I said, ‘would you mind driving that horse for me?’ ‘For sure,’ he said, ‘I’d love to go with that horse.’ ”

After rating in fifth early, Stratton guided Christen Me first-over past the half. Christen Me advanced willingly from 6 1/4 lengths out of it around the third turn, but when Stratton gave a few whip taps approaching the three-quarters, Christen Me accelerated like a wound-up toy car released from a child’s hands. He made short work of a 2 1/2-length deficit and struck the lead on the far turn. Under a hand drive, Christen Me maintained a 1 1/2-length advantage in the stretch to win in 1:53.0.

“He raced him very good, like he should,” King said. “He let him slide away a little bit, settled in, set up first-over and when he gave him his cue, he just started marching. He was really, really impressive.”

Although Christen Me raced from off the pace in each of his six North American starts to date, King expects the son of Christian Cullen to show speed in Saturday’s Open. Stratton will drive again.

“I don’t think he’ll have any problem showing speed. He’ll get started on his way and he does have a start under him. I don’t feel that’s an issue,” King said. “He’ll definitely sit close, I’m sure of it. Jordan has raced him once now and it doesn’t take a guy like Jordan long to get their own opinion of a horse like that and the horse will be ready to go when he gets there, if I’ve done my job, and I think I have. Those guys that race there, they always have respect for good horses that race from the rail. They know they’re going to really get tortured if they overdo it, so I look for him to get away in a good spot.”

In addition to the Open Handicap Pace, Saturday’s card also features a $50,000 Open Handicap Trot and a $30,000 4-Year-Old Open Handicap Pace. First post time is 7:10 p.m. For entries for Saturday’s races, click here.

by Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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