Day At The Track

Down Under trotter to make USA debut

04:16 AM 21 Feb 2019 NZDT
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La Grange, harness racing
La Grange
Ken Weingartner photo

Dozens of harness racing pacers hailing from either Australia or New Zealand will compete at Yonkers Raceway in the next several days, which is a common occurrence. Less ordinary is the appearance of a trotter from Down Under, but that will be the case Thursday (Feb. 21) when Australian-bred La Grange makes his North American debut for trainer Per Engblom.

La Grange, owned by Renee Spahr, is a son of Muscle Hill out of La Coocaracha. He was bred by Yabby Dam Farms in Australia and was a Group 2 winner during his 2- and 3-year-old seasons Down Under. Born in November 2014, he would be a 4-year-old back home, but is considered a 5-year-old in the U.S. because of the different breeding calendars.

The stallion, who has won six of 22 career races and earned $68,723, drew post eight in Yonkers' sixth race, a $20,000 conditioned event, on Thursday and is 20-1 on the morning line with Yannick Gingras in the sulky. Four-year-old Seven Iron, a stakes-winner at age 2, is the 9-5 favorite from post one.

"He's a nice horse," said Engblom, who welcomed La Grange to his stable in December. "I've seen in replays from Down Under, and from the way he feels when we're training, that he's a very strong horse. He can take a lot of air. He's very clean gaited; I just hope he's fast enough. He's more of a grinder than a speed horse, but I think he's OK."

La Grange qualified twice at the Meadowlands ahead of Thursday's debut. He finished second, timed in 1:58, behind In Secret with Engblom driving and more recently won in 1:59 with Gingras in the bike. Engblom hoped to race La Grange last week at the Meadowlands, but the class did not fill. Rather than send the horse against open-level trotters, Engblom opted for the conditioned event at Yonkers.

"There he can race in a class where he belongs," Engblom said. "Hopefully we can get him into the Meadowlands in a class where he fits so we can get started there. He's basically missing his 4-year-old year, so it's going to be a big transition. We'll see how he handles it. He was maybe a notch below the best ones Down Under, but he's a real good horse.

La Grange will not be the first Australian-born son of Muscle Hill to compete in North America. Last year, colt Aldebaranwalkabout won two races, including a division of the Bluegrass Stakes, for owner Aldebaran Park Inc. and trainer Jonas Czernyson.

Engblom will point La Grange toward several upcoming series for older trotters and also made the stallion eligible to some stakes races.

"I don't know if he's going to be ready for the early stakes, but by this fall I wouldn't be surprised if he is," Engblom said. "He's got a series at Pocono, then we'll see. We'll see if he develops. He's a big horse, so I think he's going to be better with age. I think he'll be OK."

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

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