The race for the harness racing 3-year-old male trotter of the year heats up Saturday night with the C$1 million Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk Racetrack in Ontario.
Stakes-winners, , and Whiskey Tax -- the four richest 3-year-old trotters in North America this season -- are among the field's 10 horses, as well as world-record-equaling , Goodtimes winner Blue Porsche and Empire Breeders Classic champ Whatever It Takes.
and won last weekend's elimination races.
"I think it's a very exciting race there Saturday night," said Noel Daley, the trainer of Hambletonian winner. "There are a bunch of horses with chances. We'll see who has a good week and who gets a decent enough trip."
Nine of the last 11 horses to earn the Dan Patch Award as best 3-year-old male trotter won the Canadian Trotting Classic. They were, beginning in 2000,, SJ's Caviar, , , , , , , and .
The two Dan Patch Award winners not to capture the Canadian Trotting Classic were Vivid Photo, who did not compete in the race, and, who finished second to .
"has probably stamped himself as the horse to beat, but it is a pretty open division," said Trond Smedshammer, who trains . "It's going to be interesting."
The winner of five of his last six races, and six of nine for the year,won his Canadian Trotting Classic elim by 1-3/4 lengths over in 1:54. Whiskey Tax was third.
has won three races in a row, including the $500,000 Colonial and $175,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes championship, since going off stride as the favorite in the stretch of the $1.5 million Hambletonian. won the Hambletonian in gate-to-wire fashion, followed by Whiskey Tax.
"I think he's a fast enough horse to deserve the honors for the division, it's just a matter of staying together and not having anything go wrong," trainer Erv Miller said about, who battled foot and ankle problems earlier this season. "He had a good week last week, raced real nice and seemed to come out of it real good."
David Miller has drivenin his last two races because Andy Miller, Erv's brother and the colt's previous driver, was committed to Whatever It Takes, trained by his wife, Julie. David Miller and will start the Canadian Trotting Classic from post three.
"Dave's done a good job with him," Erv Miller said. "Most of the owners wanted to get a driver that could stay with the horse. I agree with it, especially with a horse like him. The horse is not the easiest to drive. Andy always drove him good, but it's hard to move around from one driver to the next.
"The main thing our horse needs to do is not get too far back early in the race. I think that gives him a little trouble. As long as he doesn't get away too far back, he should be just fine. He seems to be a little better here now that his foot has healed up. He's been a lot better."
Following is the Canadian Trotting Classic field in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers:
1. Whiskey Tax, Randy Waples, Thomas Durand;
2., Jack Moiseyev, David Lemon;
3., David Miller, Erv Miller;
4., George Brennan, Noel Daley;
5., Brian Sears, Trond Smedshammer;
6. Sim Brown, Waples, Jeff Gillis;
7. Whatever It Takes, Andy Miller, Julie Miller;
8. Blue Porsche, Jody Jamieson, Blair Burgess;
9., Mike Lachance, Linda Toscano;
10. Imperial Count, Scott Zeron, Richard "Nifty" Norman.
STEADY AS HE GOES:
, who was not eligible to the Hambletonian, has won eight of 12 starts and has been no worse than third in any race. He has three second-place finishes. He equaled the world record of 1:52.2 on a five-eighths-mile track when he won the Beal at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
"He shows up every start and he's been good," Smedshammer said. "He's a sound horse and he doesn't make mistakes usually. He's been good all year."
will start the Canadian Trotting Classic from post five with driver Brian Sears.
"I couldn't have picked a better spot," Smedshammer said. "If you want to leave out of there a little bit you don't have to really start him up because you have a little more momentum behind the gate there. He's a little bit of a funny horse; if you get him started up he can be hard to hold in the hole if they get backed up a little bit. Coming out of the first turn, a lot of times the speed slows down and he can get a little bit grabby. From the middle of the pack I think he's going to be better off.
"You've got to have racing luck and your horse has to be the best he can be," he added. "It certainly wouldn't surprise me if he (wins) but he's going to need a little bit of racing luck. He can't have a bad cover trip, like in the eliminations. He could do it on the front end, too. But I'm going to leave that to Brian."
trotted his final quarter-mile in :27.3 in his Canadian Trotting Classic elim and made up nearly five lengths. The start came five days after he won a New York Sire Stakes event in 1:57.2 at Batavia Downs in upstate New York.
"I was a little on the fence about the start at Batavia, but he was going to be off three weeks," Smedshammer said. "If he didn't race good in Canada and I didn't want to supplement him to the (Kentucky) Futurity, it gave me another option to be eligible for the (sire stakes) final in New York.
"I figured I might as well race him rather than training him up hard. I don't think it hurt him. It was on his way to Canada, anyway. He had an easy few days between those races and he's going to have an easy few days this week. I think it should set him up good for the final."
Entering the Canadian Trotting Classic final,leads all 3-year-old trotters in earnings with $1.04 million. is second, with $584,223.
"My fella, I would be surprised if he doesn't end up with the most money at the end of the year because he's going to be there every week," Daley said. "Some of the others are maybe quicker than him, but they seem to have their issues from week to week."
, driven regularly by George Brennan, has won five of 11 races and finished second on four occasions. The only time he finished off the board was in the Colonial, when he was fourth. He bounced back to win a division of the Zweig Memorial at Tioga Downs before finishing second to Ontario-circuit standout in his Canadian Trotting Classic elim. (Read a previous story about here.)
"I thought he was better (in his elim) than he was at Tioga when he won," Daley said. "We'll see what happens. There are a bunch of nice horses there."
Daley was surprised whenwas sent off at odds of 6-1 in the Hambletonian.
"I was never so confident in all my life of winning a race as I was that day," Daley said. "The perception of him is that he can get beat all the time, but he's the most consistent and handiest of them at this stage. We've been lucky enough to have no major issues, touch wood. Everything has gone our way, which is what you need to have a good run at it."
Canadian Trotting Classic 2010 -
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications