It’s the Breeders Crown.
John Grasso is a breeder.
The 60-year-old was born into the business and has kept himself connected to the sport for nearly his entire life. On Friday his Expressive Action, a two-year-old with just two lifetime starts, will tackle the big boys in a single $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination for two-year-old trotters at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The colt starts from post two with the services of driver Ron Pierce. With two colts accepting byes, the first seven finishers will advance to the $500,000 2-Year-Old Colt Trot final on Oct. 19.
Grasso, who is likely the elder statesman of the few remaining horsemen to stable at Yonkers Raceway, believes that Expressive Action may be the best horse he’s ever had.
“Before we ever baby raced him I trained him a mile at Yonkers in two minutes flat,” said Grasso, speaking volumes about the potential of this homebred by Conway Hall from Yettas Angel. The dam is a daughter of Credit Winner, a half-sister to Grasso’s top three-year-old from a few years back named Approved Action.
“She was a big mare,” recalled Grasso of Yettas Angel. “She took a record as a four-year-old and then we crossed her with Conway Hall.”
The first foal from that pairing was Explosive Action. Grasso thought he had a good one until the colt hurt a knee. Explosive Action is racing this year as a three-year-old but far from the level expected of him.
As for Expressive Action, Grasso had extremely high hopes for him and staked him accordingly.
“We had him eligible to the Peter Haughton,” Grasso lamented, reflecting on the bad luck he’s had, which started in June after the colt scored consecutive victories in baby races with Brian Sears in the bike.
“He trotted home in: 27 and change and showed really high speed,” said Grasso.
However, days later Grasso found Expressive Action cast in his stall. In the colt’s attempt to right himself he had twisted his shoes and got some nails jammed in his feet. He also banged a knee, an injury that proved minor.
“We had to deal with Mother Nature,” said Grasso about the recovery time. “His foot needed to grow out and we had to wait.”
As part of the healing process Grasso sent Expressive Action to Golden Shoe Farms in Bullville, New York, a facility with an exercise pool that he felt would help with the horse’s conditioning while not having an impact on his feet.
“After a session in the pool they turned him out and they couldn’t catch him,” recalled Grasso.
That episode was another disaster, with Expressive Action again doing damage to his still recovering hooves.
Nearly three months later Expressive Action got back on the comeback trail but much of the stakes racing was over. The New York-sired colt still had some starts left in the Empire State’s Sire Stakes program and Grasso had hoped to get him qualified for a race at Saratoga.
“We had to have the horse entered on a Friday. Normally I would have qualified him at Yonkers since they have qualifiers on Fridays but since Yonkers qualifiers were held at night I had to ship him to Freehold to get a line on him,” Grasso said.
Unfortunately Expressive Action made a break in that qualifier and was not eligible for the Sire Stakes event.
Instead a week later Brian Sears got behind Expressive Action in a qualifier at Yonkers and the colt did what was necessary to be eligible to race in his first pari-mutuel start on September 20.
The $113,744 New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers was the first indication to the betting public of Expressive Action’s talent. The colt rallied tenaciously in the stretch after sitting well off a dawdling pace and was lapped on the winner Cash Me Out in a 1:59 3/5 mile.
With just one start Expressive Action could not qualify for the Night Of Champions and instead earned a consolation prize when he captured the $50,000 Fall Harvest at Yonkers last Saturday in 1:59 2/5.
The mile was all the inspiration Grasso needed to take a shot against the big boys.
“I wish we had more starts in him,” said Grasso, “but I’m looking at this like March Madness. If he races well in the eliminations and hopefully the final we’ll continue to race him as he has a few more starts. If not we’ll put him away and get him ready for next year.
Grasso has obviously watched Father Patrick (post nine) race, the favorite to capture not just Friday’s Crown elimination but perhaps the final as well.
“He’s an impressive colt,” he said. At the same time he believes that with a little experience Expressive Action may prove that he belongs in this company.
Perhaps 2013 will not give Grasso and his family its first Breeders Crown triumph. But that’s not likely to deter anyone. “We breed two to three mares every year. We get two to three foals and have two to three yearlings to train,” Grasso said.
In the Breeders Crown you don’t have to be big to show up, you just have to bring quality. Even from a limited production line it appears as if John Grasso could have the real thing in Expressive Action.
by Jay Berman for the Breeders Crown