Day At The Track

Croghan excited for start of Yonkers' Series

04:22 AM 17 Mar 2018 NZDT
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Ross Croghan, harness racing Waikiki Beach, harness racing
Ross Croghan
File Photo
Waikiki Beach

YONKERS, N.Y. – After visiting his New Jersey stable Wednesday to train his pacers bound for the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway, Ross Croghan is excited to see what the next six weeks will hold. Croghan will start four horses in the first leg of harness racing series action at Yonkers Raceway this weekend: Call Me Queen Be and Twinkle in the Matchmaker and Waikiki Beach and Hug The Wind in the Levy. Although he’d like to be with his stars full time, a barn of 44 horses in Florida keeps him away.

“I’d like to be up there with them, but I just can’t be in two places at once,” Croghan lamented. “I trained all those Levy and Matchmaker horses (Wednesday) morning. I just wanted to make sure they’re all good. They all felt fantastic. I’ve got two mares in the Matchmaker, they’re both as sharp as racehorses can be.”

Although $1.2 million earner Call Me Queen Be will make her seasonal debut from post three in the third Matchmaker division Friday night (March 16), Croghan’s focus will be on up-and-coming mare Twinkle. A $77,000 yearling buy out of the 2014 Lexington Select Sale, Twinkle went largely unnoticed last year after making her career debut as a 4-year-old. In the eyes of her trainer however, Twinkle has already shown hints of being something special.

“She broke beautiful and she was just so smooth and even. You could put a glass of water on her back and you wouldn’t spill a drop. When you sit behind them and you feel that, you say to yourself, ‘that’s beautiful balance,’ ” Croghan recalled. “But then, by the time she had been training for three months, it was obvious she had growing pains. Usually by 3, they’re better, but she was just one of those horses that wasn’t.”

Croghan talked owners Let It Ride Stables and Dana Parham into letting the young filly develop. Even as the opportunity for a 3-year-old season came and went, Croghan never forgot the promise Twinkle showed early in her training and never gave up on the daughter of Bettor’s Delight.

“It took her a long time to become a sound horse that you could push on with. I just kept putting her aside thinking she will eventually grow up and her growing pains will go away and last year she did,” Croghan said. “In this day and age, you get pressured because you pay for stakes and there was a point where I thought the owners were going to say to me enough’s enough. I told them I really like this filly and they just said ok and just put up with it. I think they’re going to get paid.”

When she finally began racing, Twinkle showed she could carry her morning talent to the races. She went 11-for-12 last year with another second-place finish, good for $101,250 in earnings. In just her third start, Twinkle posted a lifetime best 1:51.3 victory from post 10 at the Meadowlands with John Campbell in the sulky. Croghan remembers the Hall of Fame driver gushing over the filly post-race.

“He came in and said, ‘I think you have something special here. Green horses are not supposed to do what she just did.’ ”

Now 5 years old, Twinkle will make her stakes debut in the first leg of the Matchmaker Friday night. Eric Goodell will drive the 4-1 shot from post two. Series veteran Regil Elektra will start to Twinkle’s immediate outside while defending Matchmaker champion Makenzie drew post seven. Although the competition is more seasoned, Croghan is confident heading into the series after watching Twinkle out-train Call Me Queen Be this winter.

“I’m not a guy that steps on the gas too much training,” he explained. “You just ask them to step that last eighth and you’re looking across and you see that one horse is almost coming out of their hobbles they’re pacing so fast and you look across at the other one and she still has the bit between her teeth. I’ve trained her plenty now and she’s impressive. If you speak to her and then look at your watch, you go, ‘oh my god!’ I’ve had a lot of good mares and this might be one of the best I’ve had.”

In addition to his Matchmaker duo, Croghan will start a pair of horses in the Levy Saturday night (March 17). Although Hug The Wind is an outsider in the third division, Waikiki Beach figures to be a major contender in the evening’s second split.

A five-time Group 1 winner in Australia and earner of $708,019 for Mark Purdon, Waikiki Beach started his career with 17 consecutive victories from April 2015 to May 2016. Although he was winless in five starts as a 4-year-old last year, Waikiki Beach still finished second in the Group 1 Chariots of Fire at Menangle February 11 and fourth in the Group 1 Miracle Mile February 25. However, after a string of off-the-board finishes in New Zealand in October and November, Croghan learned Waikiki Beach could be for sale.

“I went down there to buy some horses and he was just on my radar,” Croghan said. “Sensational 2- and 3-year-old. He hit 4 years old against some of the best horses in the world. As a 4-year-old, it’s not that he raced bad, he just didn’t beat the top-flight ones. He was just on my radar to check out to see if he could possibly be on the market. Through a lot of negotiating and a lot of time, I got a deal done.”

Waikiki Beach shipped to the United States December 4, 2017 and after a stopover in New Jersey, the son of Somebeachsomewhere out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Cyclone Beach joined Croghan’s main string in Florida. The kind-mannered horse has proven a pleasure to work with thus far.

“He’s just fantastic. His manners are impeccable. He’s just a lovely horse,” Croghan remarked. “He’s a typical ‘Beach;’ he’s just got that fire in his blood. He’s a very, very smart horse, that’s what he is. He’s got a little bit of fire in his blood, but he’s very smart.

“ ‘Waikiki’ is just turn-key. You could send a child out to train him, he knows what he’s doing,” Croghan continued. “Most foreign horses, it’s a big change for them to leave their comfort zone, especially coming over in the middle of winter. From day one, he just went out on the track, never looked sideways, never took a hold of you. He doesn’t wear an overcheck, he holds himself in perfect balance at all times. He’s just a pleasure to get ready. He’s just got those beautiful racehorse manners.”

Croghan had Waikiki Beach ready to qualify at Pompano January 21 and a week later, he made his fist start on U.S. soil in the Open Handicap at the South Florida racetrack. Waikiki Beach won his debut in 1:51.4 and returned the following week to score in 1:50.2. After a brief freshening before the grueling Levy Series begins, Croghan tuned Waikiki Beach up with a 1:55.4 qualifier at Pompano March 4. While he considered the trial a success, he was surprised at how lazy Waikiki Beach was on the lead.

“His qualifier, I would have liked to have gone a little bit quicker, but it was his first time on the engine and he was just a little bit lazy,” Croghan said. “He just didn’t quite get into it, but when Scott Zeron came off the track with him, I said, ‘is he ok?’ He said, ‘he’s lazy on the front end, but as soon as he saw that horse coming to him, there was plenty in the tank.’ ”

Croghan thinks the ear plugs used in the morning contributed to Waikiki Beach’s modest qualifier. The gelding doesn’t wear them on race day.

“He has won on the front end plenty,” Croghan said. “I got him ready and made sure he stayed nice and quiet. It’s just in that last qualifier, he was a little too quiet. But he had his ear plugs in and he doesn’t have them in the race. When I race him, I take the ear plugs off him. I just keep them in for training and qualifying.”

Waikiki Beach will start from post five in his Levy division Saturday night. He’ll face 2017 series winner Keystone Velocity, who drew post seven. Although Croghan is confident, he admits there is no standout in this year’s series.

“The draw is in my favor, it’s not in his, but it’s six weeks of racing. I can’t say that he’s not going to be razor sharp because I actually think he will be,” Croghan said. “Between the qualifier and when he’ll race it’s going to be 13 days, but I trained him two trips (Wednesday) morning. He just felt fantastic. I do expect him to step out pretty close to 100 percent ready.

“He’s a nice horse and I think he fits that series,” Croghan continued. “I’m not going to call him a standout or anything like that. It’s a very even bunch of horses and when the final comes around, the draw plays a massive part of it. You’ve got to be lucky.”

First post time at Yonkers Friday and Saturday night is 6:50 p.m. For Friday’s entries, click here. For Saturday’s entries, click here.

Yonkers Sunday Post Time

Yonkers Raceway’s first post for this Sunday’s (March 18th) matinee has been set at 11:45 AM.

Races 5 (post time 1:30 PM) through 11 (post time 4:25 PM) go as the ‘French’  trots, with the 12th-race finale scheduled for 4:40 PM.

Sunday’s ‘New York, New York Double’ consists of Aqueduct’s 3rd race (post time 2:21 PM) and Yonkers’ 7th race (post time 2:30 PM). Program pages accompany this release.

By Brandon Valvo for the SOA of NY

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