On the track or off, 3-Year-Old filly trotters Victor’s Pursuit and Arcola are pretty much inseparable.
The horses, both trained by Roger Welch, won their respective elimination races for Saturday’s (November 5) $250,000 American-National at Balmoral Park in Chicago. The two had faced each other in their previous three starts, finishing 1-2 each time, with Victor’s Pursuit on top.
"They’re in the pasture together every day, seven days a week," Welch said. "They’re like best friends. They talk back and forth. Arcola was real good last year, this year there just happened to be a horse named Victor’s Pursuit. She’s still a good horse, she’s just had some of the glory taken away from her by Victor’s Pursuit."
Arcola (-Oprah) was last year’s divisional champion in Illinois when she won eight of 15 races, including the Lady Lincoln Land, and earned $198,482. This season, she has won seven of 19 starts and earned $85,994 for Turndorf Racing of Santa Monica, California. Morton Turndorf, who is part of the ownership group, bred the filly.
Victor’s Pursuit (-Hot Dog Mustard) failed to reach the races in 2004. She tried to qualify three times, but went off stride in each attempt. She moved to Welch’s barn over the winter, when she also had a chip in a back ankle removed. She won her first four races in a row with Welch driving. Since then, primarily Dave Magee has driven her. For the year, she has won 12 of 23 races, including the Lady Ann Reed, and earned $185,756. Robert Rietveld of Bourbonnais, Illinois and Paul Gibson of Crete, Illinois own her.
"She just kept getting better and better," Welch said. "She was a nervous filly; she’s matured a lot mentally as well as physically. I’d guess the chip in her ankle might have been bothering her quite a bit last year, too. She came back this year real fresh and nice."
Coulantine, who earlier this year won the Moni Maker and was second in the Kentucky Filly Futurity at the Red Mile in Lexington, was the favorite in her American-National elim, but finished fourth in the race won by Arcola. It was her first start in nearly a month, but still good enough to advance to the final.
"I expected her to go a big mile," Welch said. "I was surprised that she didn’t finish that good. But a lot of these horses hadn’t raced since Lexington, so they might have been a little short. I expect them to be sharper for the final."
The American-National field also includes Reinvent, who won a division of the Bluegrass this season and last year’s Merrie Annabelle; Magenta Hall, who earlier this season was second to Blur in the Elegantimage; and Ladymatic, who was second to Coulantine in the Moni Maker.
Welch is based at Balmoral and believes his horses might have a home-field edge on the track’s limestone surface. Victor’s Pursuit, for example, has won 11 of 14 races at Balmoral Park and finished second once.
"I feel confident," Welch said. "This is our home field; they know how to get over this track and they’re very good at it here. At Balmoral, I think that plays a big role, especially as far as shoeing. I think that’s been the reason for our success with trotters here."
Courtesy Of Harness Racing Communications, A Division of the United States Trotting Association