's stable sends out a familiar face Saturday night at Meadowlands Racetrack along with a newcomer the trainer hopes becomes a well-known regular on harness racing's biggest stages.
Nine-year-old pacer Golden Receiver, the winner of 58 lifetime races and $2.09 million, makes his seasonal debut in Saturday's $30,000 FFA handicap at the Meadowlands. He is the 6-5 morning line favorite in the six-horse field, which includes Road Untraveled, Dovuto Hanover, Live On, Alexie Mattosie and Easy Again.
In Saturday's first race of the night - the first of two divisions of the opening leg of the Buddy Gilmour Memorial Series - fans will get to see the career debut ofStride. The now 3-year-old pacer was purchased for $380,000 under the name Churchill Hanover at the 2012 Standardbred Horse Sale.
He is 20-1 on the morning line in an 11-horse field.'s Capital Account, who has three wins and a second in four lifetime starts, is the 4-5 favorite.
Golden Receiver was hampered by foot woes last year, but still won nine of 25 races and earned $497,878 for owners Our Horse Cents Stables and Nina Simmonds. His victories included the Allerage Open Pace and Presidential Series final. He finished second by a neck to Foiled Again in the season-ending TVG Championship at the Big M.
"We had issues with a foot from mid-year on; we battled a little issue with it," Harder said. "He'd have his good days and bad days on it. That last race, that TVG, was really an exciting race. What a great horse (Foiled Again) is. We gave him a run there, but we were never getting past him.
"(Golden Receiver) seems just as good. He's going to be a year older and I think older horses take a little more to get sharp, but he seems really good and healthy and happy and sound. We'll see what happens this year."
Harder, who was prepping Golden Receiver for this year's Presidential only to see the event canceled because of a lack of entries, knows the gelding will need to be at his best to take on the sport's best older pacers again. The division saw nine different horses win major stakes last season.
"We had that issue with the (right front) foot and there were weeks where he wasn't at his best and it showed on the track," Harder said. "This is like going to war every week because there are so many good horses and they race hard. They all had their little time, but there wasn't anybody that was good right through the year. It was just too tough of a class to dominate."
Harder expects Golden Receiver to compete in most of the division's stakes events, but will bypass some races on smaller tracks. Golden Receiver hit the board 14 times last season, with 11 of those coming on one-mile ovals (10 at the Meadowlands).
"We'll find his spots," Harder said. "We'll miss a few. We'll miss Tioga and a few other places that we went. I think we'll just do the Meadowlands and Woodbine and Mohawk."
Golden Receiver has won 25 of his last 55 races, hitting the board 39 times, dating back to October 2011. He earned $1.48 milliCon during that span.
"That's what you always look for, horses like him," Harder said. "It's nice to have him in the barn. He can never do anything to disappoint me, that horse. He really can't. Whatever happens going forward, I know he's getting older and he's going to get tired somewhere along the line, but he can't do anything to disappoint me."
Meanwhile,Stride will try to find his stride in the Buddy Gilmour Memorial.
Harder purchased the colt - a half-brother to stakes-winners Cathedra Dot Com, Cabrini Hanover, Western Shooter and The Preacher Pan - for Aussie's Emilio and Maria Rosati. The horse is a son of stallionout of the mare Cathedra.
Stride qualified three times last year, but wasn't himself after making a break in his first attempt.
"I liked him training down last year," Harder said. "We went to the Meadowlands for his first qualifier and he was going to pace (1):54-and-change and do it nicely and he made a little speed break. He kind of did something to himself behind and he was never the same after that. We tried to get him through it and it just didn't work, so we quit with him and gave him the time. Hopefully this is a better year."
This year,Stride finished fourth in his first qualifier with driver and seventh in his second effort with driver . But Harder was happy with the preps and will have Tetrick in the bike Saturday.
"We've just sat him in for both his qualifiers and he had good pace in both of them," Harder said. "He got shuffled out of the first out and was stuck behind some horses in the second one. Both drivers said he was good.
"He's not a world-beater but I think he's still a very useful colt. We've got him staked to a lot. (But) he's got a lot to learn."
The Gilmour Series is a good chance forStride to get his feet wet. The series is for 3-year-old pacers that were non-winners of two pari-mutuel races or $30,000 lifetime through Dec. 15.
"This is a good place to start because there are a lot of horses similar to him; a lot of them that went through last year and didn't do too well for one reason or another," Harder said. "When they didn't do anything at (age) 2 you're a bit behind the 8-ball going against those colts that had 10 or 12 starts and paced fast at 2. You've got to find a way to catch up to them without hurting them. These races, hopefully, will help.
"You'll hear his name this year. He's a good happy horse. He enjoys himself. We hope we can go to the racetrack and it will carry over and he'll want to be doing that work out there. Mentally, he's just playful and not really into it yet. But I think in a few starts, as with any young horse, he'll hit his best stride. He'll be OK. He'll show up."
by Ken Weingartner, for Harness Racing Communications