Day At The Track

Cool Manchego takes aim at Maple Leaf Trot

05:42 AM 23 Aug 2019 NZST
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Manchego, harness racing
Manchego and driver Yannick Gingras
Lisa Photo

After a slow start to her harness racing campaign, Manchego will try to resume her return to winning form when she heads to Woodbine Mohawk Park for Saturday's (Aug. 24) second of two eliminations for the Maple Leaf Trot.

The 4-year-old mare, who was a Dan Patch Award winner in 2017, has won two of her past three races, including a stakes-record 1:50 performance in the Steele Memorial earlier this month.

"She needed a little bit of time to get back into herself, but I think history has showed that when she's on top of her game she's tough to beat," trainer Nancy Johansson said. "She's a super nice filly. She's nice and relaxed now and nice to be around and happy. Earlier in her life, she was always a little on edge. Now she's as cool as a cucumber. She's really confident in herself."

Manchego was one of five mares entered in the Maple Leaf Trot, which attracted 13 horses. The mares joining Manchego in the second elim are Hannelore Hanover, the 2017 winner of the event, and Emoticon Hanover. They will meet male rivals Crystal Fashion, Marion Marauder, Run Director, and Six Pack.

In the first elim, the mares are Atlanta and Dream Together. They are joined by males Speeding Spur N, Dancer Hall, Cruzado Dela Noche, and Guardian Angel AS.

Guardian Angel AS is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first elimination, followed by Atlanta at 5-2. Crystal Fashion is the 5-2 choice in the second division, followed by Manchego at 3-1. The top five finishers from each elimination return Aug. 31 for the final.

Manchego, whose career victories include a Breeders Crown in 2017 and the Hambletonian Oaks in 2018, was winless in her first five races this season. She was unlucky when it came to draws, getting posts seven, eight (twice) and 10 in her first four starts. She raced from off the pace in her first two starts, but it was too difficult to make up ground in the stretch.

"People always say post position doesn't matter, that it's just a starting point, but it does matter because nowadays they go fast the whole mile," Johansson said. "If you're sitting eighth, you can't catch up. So, unless you're going to blast off the gate, which is what we ended up having to do."

In the Graduate Series championship at The Meadowlands, when she started from post 10, she got to the front in an opening quarter of :26.2. She ended up finishing fourth, beaten only 1-1/2 lengths, in Atlanta's 1:49.1 world-record mile. Manchego was timed in 1:49.2.

Two starts later, she picked up her first win of the season with a 1:50.1 triumph from post nine at The Meadowlands. She followed with her gate-to-wire triumph in the Steele Memorial on Hambletonian Day at the Big M and was the bettor's second choice in the Joie De Vie Stakes on Aug. 11 at Tioga Downs, only to get knocked out of contention by a horse that broke in front of her just after the start of the race.

"It was a little disappointing she got wiped out last time because Dexter (driver Dexter Dunn) said she'd never scored down that good for him," Johansson said. "But she's very good and hopefully we can just keep her there."

Manchego, by Muscle Hill out of Secret Magic, has won 21 of 34 lifetime starts and earned $1.69 million. She is owned by Barry Guariglia's Black Horse Racing.

"It was a little frustrating early, but I was never overly concerned," Guariglia said about Manchego's start to this season. "They said just give her a little time and she'll come. And sure enough.

"You always worry about desire. Once they throw it in mentally, then you're in trouble. But she's got the desire. She likes to do her work."

Andrew McCarthy will drive Manchego on Saturday, sitting in for Dunn, who will be at Yonkers Raceway to race Bettor's Wish in his Messenger Stakes elimination.

"That doesn't worry me," Johansson said. "Dexter has done a very good job with her, but I'm sure Andrew can do just as well of a job."

The Maple Leaf Trot eliminations are races two and three on Saturday's card, which begins at 7:10 p.m. (EDT). The night also includes two divisions of the Eternal Camnation Stakes for 2-year-old female pacers and one division of the Nassagaweya for 2-year-old male pacers.

For complete entries, click here.

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

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