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TORONTO -- Sometimes you have to get the breaks to win a Breeders Crown race and that proved to be the case in the harness racing event for three-year-old filly trotters as 1-5 shot Mission Brief broke stride on a clear lead in early stretch and Wild Honey emerged with the victory in the $500,000 U.S.($648,700 Cdn) event on Saturday at Woodbine. The race began as expected as Mission Brief cleared the 8-5 Wild Honey going to the quarter in a respectable :26.2. Mission Brief and Yannick Gingras cruised to the half in :56.2 with no movement from the trailers. Mission Brief kicked it into high gear late on the final turn and appeared to be opening ground effortlessly on Wild Honey hitting the three quarters in 1:25 and looking on her way to an open lengths victory. That victory would not materialize as Mission Brief blew up and was pulled to the outside in the stretch leaving Wild Honey and driver John Campbell suddenly in the lead and concerned about the trailers. Closers Im So Fancy and Speak To Me gained gradually on the Jimmy Takter-trained daughter of Cantab Hall, but neither could dent the filly's margin as she won for the third straight time this year and avenged a defeat to Mission Brief in last year's Breeders Crown juvenile event. "I don't think I was going to catch her," said John Campbell of Mission Brief. "My filly was struggling on the turn and she got away from me. If you're going to beat Mission Brief you've got to stay right on her back." But Campbell's strategy to stay on Mission Brief's back was not important once the filly made a break. Mission Brief's trainer Ron Burke said his filly, "didn't warm up the best. The track didn't suit her today and she has those issues that we're not 1,000 per cent over just yet. I thought she was, but I knew warming her up that maybe we had an issue. "She was home. All she had to do was keep herself trotting so, you know, it's bad. That's the high of the sport and the lows of the sport right there. She'll be fine and there will come a time yet when she'll put it all together. She's the best horse I've ever trained." Winning trainer Jimmy Takter -- who captured his third Crown of the evening and 24th lifetime -- said he thought he had a chance. "I saw Yannick was having trouble with her (Mission Brief). She wasn't trotting as smoothly as she usually does," Takter said. Takter also put his vote in for division honors. "She won the Hambletonian (Oaks), The Kentucky Futurity (filly division) and The Breeders Crown. I think she should be the divisional champion," Takter said. Wild Honey, owned by Christina Takter, John Fielding, Jim Fielding and Herb Liverman, has now won over $1.5 million during her career. She's won 17 of 26 lifetime starts. Classical Annie and Elegant Serenity earned the final checks in the field. It was the 12th Breeders Crown victory for John Fielding, who ranks second in Crown victories by owners. By Jay Bergman

TORONTO - Southwind Frank made it look easy for harness racing driver Yannick Gingras clearing to the lead by the quarter pole and never looking back to capture the $600,000 U.S. ($778,440 Cdn) Breeders Crown event for two-year-old trotting colts and geldings at Woodbine Racetrack. The son of Muscle Hill has been a dominant force in the division all season long and the Crown performance was no exception as he cruised over the rain-soaked Woodbine oval in a 1:54.2 clocking under wraps. Owned by Burke Racing and Weaver Bruscemi, Our Horse Cents Stables and J & T Silva Stables, Southwind Frank is out of the Cantab Hall-sired Flawless Lindy. Sent off as the prohibitive 1-10 favorite, Southwind Frank left alertly but Gingras waited for Sliding Home inside of him to clear the lead before hustling his colt to the front before the :27.1 opening quarter. With little movement behind him, Gingras took the second quarter to shut down the pace with Southwind Frank trotting a :30.2 second quarter while in complete command. The first horse to pull was Marion Marauder and Scott Zeron. Also by Muscle Hill the colt grinded up towards the winner through the third quarter as Gingras let a notch out and Southwind Frank hit three quarters in 1:26.2. With Marion Marauder in pursuit, Gingras allowed Southwind Frank to hit his best stride and the colt opened ground effortlessly cruising a final quarter in :28 and winning with ease. Marion Marauder was a determined second-place finisher, the fifth time this year in 11 starts he finished in the bridesmaid role. Early leader Sliding Home earned the final board spot. The victory was win number 11 in a dozen starts for the impressive colt trained by leading conditioner Ron Burke, who celebrated his ninth Breeders Crown victory. "He was a bit more aggressive behind the gate this week," said Gingras, who won his 12th Breeders Crown and 11th in the last three years. "Once I settled him down he was all business... From the first time I sat behind him he's been all business." Deep Impact and Milligans School earned the final checks. Southwind Frank returned $2.20 as the third consecutive Crown odds-on winner on the Woodbine program. QUOTES; Yannick Gingris driver; Any anxious moments? YG: Maybe a few moments behind the gate.  He was a bit more aggressive than he has been the last few weeks. He was like that in the beginning of the year.  So, I just wanted to get him off on the right foot, because he was not sure footed then. The rest of the way I had no problem. From the first time that I sat behind him, at Gaitway, he has been all business.  Every time that I have raced him, he has been a perfect professional. Jerry Silva: I think that he may have surpassed his father, Muscle Hill, and that is saying a lot.  No one knows until next year how good he is going to be. I had this conversation with Ron Burke, trainer,  He should be able to do a lot.  This is his last race for the year.  We are not going to do anything else with him now.  Hambo: There is something in August that we like to go to.  The Hambo.  This year we tried it, but we were not good enough.  Next year we will try it again with Southwind Frank. Nights that make it all worthwhile? It makes it all worthwhile.  1to9 makes me nervous, trotters make me nervous.  Everything makes me nervous. You saw how relaxed he was out in the Woodbine winner’s circle.  He is just the picture-perfect horse. You love them more when they are that way. By Jay Bergman

Solar Sister and harness racing driver Doug McNair came right back from an impressive victory in last week's Ontario Sire Stakes Super final to capture the first of two US$25,000 eliminations for the Breeders Crown sophomore pacing filly division. In a wide-open and competitive event Solar Sister was sent off as the 7-2 second choice and McNair left enough in the early stages to get a three-hole as first The Show Returns blasted to the front and then was passed by Southwind Roulette with driver Yannick Gingras. Southwind Roulette took the field to the quarter in :27 1/5 and virtually walked to the half in :57 flat as the outside flow was slow to materialize. Bettor Be Steppin, the lukewarm favorite in the field of nine pulled but awaited cover and once past the half Solar Sister was taken to the outside by McNair and the race began. Tracking second over cover was the undefeated Frost Damage Blues with Bettor Be Steppin third over. Solar Sister reached even terms with the pacesetting Southwind Roulette as the third quarter was blitzed in :27 3/5. The well-bred daughter of Mach Three hit high gear for McNair in the homestretch and sprinted away from the leaders winning comfortably in 1:52 1/5. Frost Damage Blues lost for the first time in her brief career but was a solid second earning a trip to the final. Southwind Roulette held on for third with The Show Returns finding space between horses to get fourth with Bettor Be Steppin narrowly nosing Wicked Little Minx from a spot in the rich final. McNair, who guided Solar Sister for his dad, trainer Greg McNair, and owners David Wilmot and Clay Horner was quite happy with the way the trip worked out for the filly. "I was able to sit with her for five-eighths of a mile. She's actually very good coming from off the pace," McNair said.   The victory was the eighth of the season in 15 starts for Solar Sister, a homebred.   Solar Sister     Jay Bergman

Undefeated Pure Country took her act to the North Country on Friday night but the results were identical to what's been expected from the juvenile daughter of Somebeachsomewhere in the United States. The Jimmy Takter trained filly was powerful in capturing the first of two $20,000 US eliminations for the Breeders Crown harness racing two-year-old filly pace in 1:52 3/5 at Woodbine. Driven by Brett Miller the homebred from Adam Bowden's Diamond Creek Farm's racing stable got away third as the 1-5 betting choice as Lyons River Pride and Yannick Gingras jetted from the outside to take charge in a :28 1/5 opening quarter. Lyons River Pride kept an honest pace and because of it there was little movement through the second quarter with the half reached in :56 2/5 before anyone began to move. Darlinonthebeach and driver David Miller were the first to pull at that point and slowly progressed on the rim with Pure Country pulling to provide cover with roughly three-eighths of the mile remaining. The pace and activity got serious as the field reached the three-quarters in 1:24. Brett Miller worked on Pure Country in the early stretch and the filly responded with authority, blowing past the leader and drawing clear to win in handy fashion. Darlinonthebeach looked to be a serious threat off cover on the final turn but couldn't accelerate with the winner into the stretch. Nevertheless driver David Miller was able to urge the filly on late to get the place spot with early pacesetter Lyons River Pride holding on for the third spot. Mayhem Seelster and Shezarealdeal picked up the final two qualifying spots and return for the $600,000 October 24 final. The victory kept Pure Country with a perfect nine wins in nine career starts during her first season at the races. Sent off as the 1-5 choice Pure Country returned $2.40 to win.   Pure Country     With the elimination winners drawing for posts 1-5, the complete field for the final is as follows:   1 Darlinonthebeach, Dave Miller, Nancy Johansson   2 Shezarealdeal, Marcus Miller, Tony O'Sullivan 3 Pure Country, Brett Miller, Jimmy Takter 4 Lyons River Pride, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke 5 Yankee Moonshine, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke 6 Soft Idea, Tim Tetrick, Linda Toscano 7 Blue Moon Stride, Andrew McCarthy, Mark Harder 8 Skinny Dipper, Randy Waples, Tony O'Sullivan 9 Mayhem Seelster, Jack Moiseyev, Tony O'Sullivan 10 Call Me Queen Bee, Scott Zeron, Tony O'Sullivan AE: 1 Tipton Teeez, Tim Tetrick, Brian Brown AE 2 Rock Me Baby, John Campbell, Staffan Lind Jay Bergman for Breeders Crown  

Harness racing trainer George Ducharme knows that Wings Of Royalty is not the same horse as 2013 Hambletonian champion Royalty For Life. The affable conditioner nonetheless is rather pleased with the progress the son of R C Royalty has made entering the 90th edition of the Hambletonian on Saturday at the Meadowlands. “I’m very happy with the way he trained this week,” said Ducharme from his Vernon Downs base on Thursday. “I thought he raced well in the Zweig (fourth place behind Pinkman),” said Ducharme. “After the race I talked to Tim (Tetrick) and we both agreed that he needed a race over the big track to get stretched out and acclimate to the speed of the race." "He’d been racing so much over the half mile tracks.” Royalty For Life will have Brian Sears in the bike in the second of two elimination heats on Saturday afternoon. “I was very happy with the draw,” said Ducharme of post five in the nine-horse field. Wings Of Royalty, a homebred of Raymond Campbell Jr., has earned $237,599 during his career racing primarily in New York. The colt prepped for the Hambletonian with a victory at Vernon Downs last Saturday coming from off the pace in 1:54 3/5. “I think he’s as good as he’s ever been,” said Ducharme of Wings Of Royalty. “I was happy with the division he got into." I think the first division is tougher but we do have Mission Brief and she’ll be tough if she behaves.” Royalty For Life was a favorite going into the Hambletonian in 2013 and Wings Of Royalty is a decided longshot. But trainer George Ducharme wouldn’t have entered the colt had he not thought he belonged with this group. Wings Of Royalty has been quite consistent throughout his career and has the dual capacity to race near or from off the pace and still finish his miles with strength. Without question having Hambletonian experience is a major factor in getting to the race again and succeeding. Both Ducharme and Sears have been here before which in a sense takes some of the pressure off. Wings Of Royalty is as good as he’s going to be, whether that’s good enough won’t be known until sometime late on Saturday afternoon. Jay Bergman

The Hambletonian, to be raced for the 90th time on Saturday, has a rich family heritage. Page through the pedigrees of today's finest horses and you can take a trip back in time and find the greatest trotters of the last century. Family means everything when it comes to harness racing equine pedigree and it means even more to those heavily invested in the sport. Charlie Keller III, the recent Hall of Fame nominee, helped guide the fortunes of Yankeeland Farm, a breeding operation in Maryland begun by his father in 1955. Though the farm has closed operations, Keller III hasn't lost his urge to find a quality trotter and compete at the highest level. On Saturday, Muscle Diamond, a horse he owns in partnership with his son and nephews, is among 19 looking to capture the $1 million Hambletonian. Ironically it was Keller that went back in time to pluck the yearling by Muscle Hill from the 2002 Hambletonian Oaks winning Windylane Hanover for $40,000 in the fall of 2013. "I just fell in love with the pedigree," said Keller. "I mean he had Yankeeland blood all over on both sides." On the dams side was Windylane Hanover, a daughter of Lindy Lane owned by Yankeeland and ironically a mare that was sold off. A close look at the production information surrounding Windylane Hanover lets you believe she was an absolute early failure as a broodmare. "She actually had a foal that won a $100,000 race in Europe," said Keller. "I believe that happened before this colt (Muscle Diamond) sold." Windylane Hanover had been bred to Andover Hall and his son Donato Hanover but the breeders elected to go with Muscle Hill and the combination has clicked. "I loved Muscle Hill," said Keller. "He's got a tremendous amount of Yankeeland blood himself." Indeed Muscle Hill, the 2009 Hambletonian winner is by the 1998 Hambletonian champion Muscles Yankee. Muscles Yankee was bred by Yankeeland and sold for $200,000 as a yearling. Hall of Famer Chuck Sylvester developed Muscles Yankee. "We sold him as a yearling and then we bought shares in him after his racing career ended," said Keller. Yankee Blondie, a daughter of Yankee Bambi is the dam of Muscle Hill. Yankee Bambi was a sister to Yankee Bambino, runner-up to Bonefish in the four-heat 1975 Hambletonian at DuQuoin. Yankee Bambino was named after the legendary Babe Ruth. Yankee Duchess, the dam of Yankee Bambi was a foundation mare for the Yankeeland Farms producing for more than 20 years. Trainer, part-owner Brett Bittle wasn't overly excited when he first looked at Muscle Diamond prior to the yearling sale. "There was nothing special about him," Bittle said. "What impressed me was when I watched his video." Bittle, Keller's nephew, was also the conditioner of Windylane Hanover when she won the Oaks in 2002. "Ronnie (Pierce) gave her a great drive that day," said Bittle recalling the victory. Windylane Hanover had finished second in her elimination for the Oaks and her regular driver Mike Lachance opted for race favorite Cameron Hall for the final. Pierce had the mount behind the 25-1 Windylane Hanover and he worked out a perfect trip behind Cameron Hall to score the upset. Unlike his dam Windylane Hanover, Muscle Diamond's three-year-old season has been anything but smooth to date. A runner-up to Pinkman in last year's Breeders Crown, Muscle Diamond was expected to be among the elite three-year-olds in North America this year. Muscle Diamond was ready and on schedule but after his first start in New Jersey Sire Stakes action Bittle discovered an abscess in a hind foot that proved to be a minor setback. Then came a tendon injury while Muscle Diamond was out in a paddock that set the horse back another four weeks. It's hard to play catch up in the three-year-old trotting ranks but when you have a horse with Muscle Diamond's talent you just have to take the bumps and move forward and that's what Bittle has done. Finally going in the right direction Muscle Diamond made just his second start of the year on July 26 in the Zweig consolation at Vernon Downs. Hall of Fame pilot John Campbell put him on the front and the colt was a convincing 1:53 2/5 victor. "John was very happy with the way he raced," said Bittle of the Zweig. While Campbell was a major part of the structure behind Muscle Diamond he won't be able to drive the colt on Saturday. The Hall of Famer was injured in a qualifier on Friday, July 31 and will be sidelined. "John's been such a big part of this horse. It's a shame he has to miss out," said Bittle. In his place will sit Tim Tetrick, a future Hall of Famer. Tetrick's assignment wasn't made easy by the post draw as Muscle Diamond landed in the second $100,000 elimination on Saturday afternoon, race nine and the post position nine. "I think he's an easy horse to drive," said Bittle, "There aren't any quirks to him." Yet Bittle is clearly concerned about the catch-up game and whether the best in Muscle Diamond is ahead of August 8. "At least he's had 10 days to prepare after the Zweig," said Bittle. "We were able to get some work into him and I think that will help." With the revised Hambletonian format Muscle Diamond will have to first qualify for the final heat by finishing in the top five in his division, a race that includes the sensational filly Mission Brief, then race a second time for the money. "None of them have had to go two heats," said Bittle answering the obvious question whether Muscle Diamond will have the stamina to return. "I would have liked to have six starts in him. That was the plan," said Bittle. For Keller, Bittle and Yankeeland it has been a long bumpy road this year to reach the Hambletonian. It would be fitting for the legacy that a second son or daughter of Muscle Hill would capture the sport's biggest prize and a bit more special if the name on the trophy said-Muscle Diamond. By Jay Bergman

In the fall of 1984 harness racing opened its doors to an innovative collection of stakes races known as the Breeders Crown. Borrowing in some ways from its thoroughbred cousins, the Standardbred powers that be put together a series of races at racetracks across North America designed to promote the sport and define champions. Throughout 30 years the Breeders Crown has had many changes with races added and subtracted, and formats molded to fit the times. Yet looking back to 1984, and the inaugural Breeders Crown, it's clear the year was significant both in its assemblage of horseflesh as well as a showcase for traditional trainers and the budding emergence of catch-drivers. The very first Breeders Crown took place on October 5. It was the second week of the annual Red Mile Grand Circuit with 2-year-old male trotters split into two elimination races and a final on the same day. Hard to believe looking back that 2-year-old trotters were allowed to race twice in the same day, but there were no complaints, as Facebook and Twitter had yet to be invented. Workaholic, a finely bred son of Speedy Crown, captured the race off and became the first Breeders Crown champion. The victory would showcase the enormous driving skill of Berndt Lindstedt. One of Sweden's finest had been a secret to many in North America, but when given the reins behind a horse from the late-Hakan Wallner's stable, he generally managed to pick up a few lengths. That first afternoon of Breeders Crown action perhaps opened the door to a new way of thinking in the industry. In the very first Breeders Crown race, a still young but emerging superstar named John Campbell picked up the "catch-drive" behind the winless Sven Hanover and managed to guide the son of Super Bowl to a 26-1 upset victory. A week earlier the accomplished trainer Jimmy Arthur had driven Sven Hanover in Grand Circuit action. There were just eight Breeders Crown races held in 1984 with championships for the 2- and 3-year-olds of both gaits and sexes. Just a week after Workaholic had made history the stage was set for the apparent coronation of the brilliant Nihilator in the 2-year-old pacing colt event slated for The Meadows. From the first crop of the great Niatross, Nihilator had been breathtaking in his first season at the races and entered the Crown unblemished the odds-on favorite. Dragons Lair was a mercurial pacing colt trained and driven by Jeff Mallet from the first crop by Tyler B, a highly respected chaser of Niatross during his racing career but at the same time a full brother to the champion Tarport Hap. Ironically Niatross and Tyler B would have the cream of their first crops duel in the first Breeders Crown event for pacers. Nihilator entered the Crown with an entourage. Hailing from the powerful Bill Haughton stable, Nihilator, after winning his elimination heat, was joined in the final by stablemates Pershing Square and Flight Of Fire. What was significant on this night was the placement of Pershing Square and Tommy Haughton. While Nihilator had the rail position, Pershing Square had post two and his driver would use it in what looked to be a search (for Dragons Lair) and destroy mission. Without question on paper and on the track, it appeared as if all the cards were stacked against Dragons Lair. The Jeff Mallet-trained and driven colt lost his elimination to Nihilator and drew post three directly outside elimination winners Nihilator and Pershing Square. From the outset there appeared to be collective strategy from the Haughton camp. Pershing Square (also from Niatross' first crop) and Tommy Haughton left with authority and appeared on a mission to keep Dragons Lair from seeing the front end. The early pace appeared suicidal for the times, with Dragons Lair needing a :26.3 opening quarter to get to the front. It's hard to put in perspective just how fast that was at the time, but it would probably translate to :25 in modern times. Needless to say, many in the crowd had to believe that Dragons Lair would be completely cooked by the opening quarter and would never be able to hold off Nihilator when that colt came calling. To the surprise of many it wasn't Dragons Lair that was short on air in the late stages but the rest of the field. Mallet had gotten a little bit of a breather and Nihilator put in a challenge on the backstretch but at no point did he appear eager to go by. The victory by Dragons Lair was indeed a David vs Goliath moment that put the Breeders Crown permanently on the map to stay. "Even though I was on the losing end I have to say that it was an incredibly exciting time," said Bob Boni, who selected Nihilator as part of choice group from Niatross' first crop for Lou Guida. It wasn't that long after his triumph that Guida purchased a significant interest in Dragons Lair. While Guida's investment appeared at the time to be a way of protecting his own interests, Dragons Lair would never prove to be up to the task of racing with Nihilator again. Neither Dragons Lair nor Nihilator turned into successful stallions, with the exception of one significant colt by the name of Dragon Again. The son of Dragons Lair would etch his name in the history books as the sire of Breeders Crown winner and richest pacer of all time Foiled Again, a legitimate contender to capture his second straight Crown at the Meadowlands on November 22. Two sensational pacing fillies battled in the first Breeders Crown for juveniles, held on October 19 at Maywood Park. Stienam, the 2-5 favorite for Hall of Fame driver Buddy Gilmour, was upset by the Tyler B-sired Amneris, with John Campbell urging the Nordin Stable-entrant by in a photo finish. The two would rekindle their battle a year later with Stienam equaling the score earning the 3-year-old championship. Amneris would have limited success as a broodmare, but her rival would see her name appear on Breeders Crown champions to the current era. Stienam's daughter Stienams Girl produced the 1997 Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly pace champion Stienams Place. In 2010 Stienams Place's filly Put On A Show would also capture the 3-year-old filly pacing title event. Sadly, none of the four winning fillies from the first class of Breeders Crown champions would have an impact on future generations. Conifer (2YO Filly Trot), Fancy Crown (3YO Filly Trot) and Naughty But Nice (3YO Filly Pace) had brief broodmare careers and insignificant impact on the future of the breed. The first 3-year-old colt pace took place at Northlands Park in Western Canada on October 14, on a cold and windy day. Perhaps this Crown race ushered in the era of the power of a catch-driver, as pre-race second choice Guts saw his regular pilot William O'Donnell elect to drive Troublemaker for trainer Gene Riegle and owner George Segal. O'Donnell's wise decision led to an upset victory by Troublemaker and perhaps proved to the racing world how astute a catch-driver can be. O'Donnell followed race favorite and local hero On The Road Again's cover and marched to a 6-1 mild upset. On November 16, Baltic Speed gave Team Nordin its second Crown champion when he captured the 3-year-old colt trotting event at Pompano Park. The son of Speedy Somolli led a one-two-three finish for the stable with Sandy Bowl and Giorgio D following him home. Some 30 years later another impressive stable with Sweden roots, that of Jimmy Takter, may be set up for a similar sweep with the top rated Father Patrick and Nuncio in the line-up at the Meadowlands. Certainly the Nordin stable and that of Hakan Wallner had to have an impact on a young Jimmy Takter coming to America. While Takter early in his career was loyal to trotters specifically, he, like the Nordins, would adapt to American racing and influence the pacing side of Breeders Crown lore. Baltic Speed was a good son of Speedy Somolli, but showed no similarity to the dominant racetrack ability of his sire. Had anyone been asked in 1984 to predict if any of the four male champions would go on to stallion duty and be successful, it's hard to conceive Baltic Speed would have topped the list. Looking back, it is crystal clear that Baltic Speed, the 1984 Breeders Crown champion, is the single most influential stallion in North America over the last 30 years. His very first crop included a pair of world-class horses in international champion Peace Corps ($4.1 million) and Valley Victory. While Peace Corps made a dramatic impact on the world stage as a racehorse, capturing four Breeders Crown events during her brilliant career, Valley Victory's short-lived racing career (BC 2YO champ in 1988) is not what he'll be remembered for most. Valley Victory has changed the shape of trotting for years to come through his sons, grandsons and great grandsons, despite being a horse with serious fertility issues. Valley Victory's sons and daughters made a significant impact in the mid-90's with Victory Dream ('94), the filly Continentalvictory ('96) and Muscles Yankee ('98) winning the sport's most coveted prize: The Hambletonian. Valley Victory's impression on the Crown was incredible during that period. He sired 2-year-old filly champions Lookout Victory ('94), Continentalvictory ('95), My Dolly ('97), Musical Victory ('98), while his son Victory Dream continued with Dream Of Joy ('99) from his second crop. Victory Dream produced Hambletonian winner Self Possessed ('99) from his first crop and after retiring from the racetrack, Self Possessed produced the sport's leading trotting stallion Cantab Hall from his first crop. Six of the last seven juvenile colt Breeders Crown champions are direct descendants of Valley Victory. His grandson Muscle Hill captured consecutive Breeders Crown events in 2008 and 2009 and has made his mark on the breed as the sire of 2014 Hambletonian winner Trixton. Some memories last forever. For those old enough to have witnessed the epic Dragons Lair-Nihilator battle of 1984 it says everything about what the Breeders Crown started as and would become today. By Jay Bergman, for the Breeders Crown

Fred Hertrich III says he isn't a seller or a buyer. "I'm a trader," said Hertrich about his activities surrounding any horse sale. As the owner of Allamerican Harnessbreds Hertrich's yearlings go to auction every year and sell fairly well. "We had a great sale this year," Hertrich said. In 2009, after his yearlings had sold, Hertrich stayed a while longer to attend the Harrisburg mixed auction that included racehorses and breeding stock. From that large group he was able to come away with a $20,000 purchase by the name of Two Steppin Sally. "I liked the pedigree. She was from a Winbak Farm family that had done well. Robert Tribbett looks at all of the mares for me and he thought she had a solid family and stood correctly," Hertrich recalled. By Western Hanover, Two Steppin Sally was out of the Direct Scooter-sired mare Happy Doris. She had completed her racing career with a 1:55.2 mark taken at two with earnings of $44,910. Western Hanover leads all sires in Breeders Crown earnings with $7.2 million. "I own shares in about 90 percent of the major pacing and trotting stallions," said Hertrich, who left Tribbett in charge of selecting the right stallion to match with his newly acquired mare. Two Steppin Sally's first foal is Breeders Crown 3-year-old pacing filly finalist Major Dancer. A $47,000 yearling purchase by Casie Coleman for her clients West Wins Stable, Mac Nichol and Adriano Sorella, Major Dancer was lightly raced as a 2-year-old but blossomed this season, finishing first or second in 13 of 18 starts leading up to Friday's $593,750 final. Major Dancer's career earnings to date are a healthy $284,934. Major Dancer has shown the ability to tough it out and she may get a lot of that from a strong maternal line where a large majority of the foals blossomed into hard-hitting raceway stock. Two Steppin Sally was next bred to Bettors Delight, keeping the mare's foals eligible to the rich New York Sire Stakes program. Trainer Joe Holloway had to pay $70,000 to bring home Bettor Be Steppin for his ownership team of Ted Gewertz, Rojan Stable and Val D'Or Farms, but much like Coleman's purchase the year prior, that price appears to be a bargain. Holloway liked the filly from the start, and was hoping to take it easy with her early in the season and keep her primed for a long and prosperous campaign. The plan has worked out well with Bettor Be Steppin, a finalist in Saturday's $500,000 Breeders Crown for juvenile filly pacers. "She was really sharp at Hoosier (Kentuckiana Farms Stallion Management Pace) and raced very well at the Red Mile," said Holloway. "I wasn't happy with her race in the Matron but I believe she choked down in that race. Sometimes it takes a few races to get over that." With $238,643 banked in 2014, Bettor Be Steppin appears to have a very bright future that could exceed her half-sister. "I think she's in the top three or four fillies in the country," said Holloway. Interestingly, Two Steppin Sally's third foal, a Roll With Joe-sired colt named Roll With Fred, sold earlier this month at the Harrisburg sale and created quite a stir. "He was a very good looking colt," said Hertrich. "Probably the best looking Roll With Joe [of the ones I saw]," Hertrich stated. The bidding was fast and furious when Roll With Fred came into the ring and by the time the horse was hammered down it was Holloway "in the back" with the final bid of $135,000. "I had looked at the colt a few times and I was kind of torn," said Holloway. "He had this bow in his neck and I was kind of concerned about what his attitude would be like." Perhaps Holloway had also done his homework and noticed that there were plenty of geldings in the pedigree and very few, if any, colts. "I usually stay in the front at Harrisburg to see who I'm bidding against," said Holloway, "But in this case I wanted to see the colt in the back." As it turns out, Holloway was in the right place at the right time. "This other yearling in the back ring was acting out, a real bully. When he came up to Roll With Fred, he just held his ground and acted like if the colt wanted to start something he would take care of him." Holloway was no longer concerned about Roll With Fred's attitude and bid aggressively to get him. "Casie (Coleman) came up to me after the sale and said 'How much would you have bid on that colt if you had liked him?'" said Holloway. Val D'or Farms, Rojan Stables and Ted Gewertz, all owners of Bettor Be Steppin now also own Roll With Fred. Sadly, Hertrich revealed that Roll With Fred will be the last foal from the mare. Two Steppin Sally's life ended, along with the foal she was carrying by Bettors Delight, earlier this year during the foaling process. No doubt her name will live on with two fillies of Breeders Crown quality on the racetrack and as future broodmares, along with a pacing colt who already appears to have the toughness required to excel on the racetrack. By Jay Bergman, for the Breeders Crown  

On Sunday, two days before the box closed on the $1 million Hambletonian, owner Marc Goldberg had a conversation with his trainer Trond Smedshammer about Royal Ice. "I told him I thought the Townsend Ackerman was a good race for him," said Goldberg of the conversation. "He thought that there weren't going to be enough horses entered and that if it was just going to be one heat why not take a chance." Smedshammer's opinion matters to Goldberg. The pair has been closely connected most notably to the betting public with the $4.2 million winning Arch Madness. A week ago it might have appeared to be pure madness to consider Royal Ice entered for anything but a non-winners of one race. Everything changed for the horse, trainer and owner this past Friday (July 25) at the Meadowlands. Royal Ice broke his maiden in 1:51 3/5 with catch-driver Yannick Gingras in the bike. The son of Muscle Hill reached the winner's circle for the first time in his career surprising both the trainer and owner. "I didn't think he was sharp enough and I told Marc he might be a little short," said Smedshammer, well aware that the horse hadn't raced in four weeks. "We really didn't get to see how good he was in some of the earlier races. He was always racing on a sloppy track," said Goldberg. But everyone got to see just how strong a horse Royal Ice was this past Friday. "He definitely has the desire," said Smedshammer who admitted that earlier this season he was concerned that the horse was having trouble breathing. With but seven career starts, Royal Ice lacks experience going into Saturday's Hambletonian. He landed post six between two of the Taker's three stable stars Nuncio (post five) and Trixton (post seven). "I think he has enough experience," said Smedshammer unconcerned about whether the horse could be competitive. "Takters horses are better than him but anything can happen," he said. It's somewhat ironic that both trainer and owner hadn't given much consideration to the Hambletonian. As a matter of fact they hadn't given much consideration to staking the horse as a three-year-old. "He's really not in very much," said Goldberg. "It can get very expensive to stake a three-year-old. I don't want an owner to spend $20,000 staking a horse that hasn't shown that much," Smedshammer said. Yet surprisingly the trainer managed to keep Royal Ice eligible to one major race. "I had to talk him into keeping him eligible for the Hambletonian, but it's not as expensive as some of the other races," the trainer said. For Goldberg purchasing the colt for $70,000 as a yearling was not a surprise. "Barry (Goldstein) and I raced his dam The Ice Queen and this was her first foal by a great horse: Muscle Hill, said Goldberg. "Geoff Stein and David Reid bred the colt." What appears paramount to both Goldberg and Smedshammer on Saturday is not to do anything that would hinder the development of the colt. He's stepping up in class in a major way and even the trainer is not blown away by his final time in last week's race. "They are going much faster and I don't take much stock in that. I like the fact that he's a horse that's very willing and wants to go," said Smedshammer. Ron Pierce gets the assignment on Saturday with Gingras committed to Hambletonian favorite Father Patrick. "I think Ron's a good choice," said Smedshammer, "He's not afraid of the moment." Smedshammer's Arch Madness landed post three in the John Cashman Jr. Memorial on Saturday and the ten-year-old. "Brian (Sears) wanted to leave with him in the eliminations but then he had to take him off when others left," said Smedshammer, "That wasn't good for the horse but he fought back late." The wins have not come as often this year for Arch Madness, but his owner hasn't lost faith. "He's still going the same kind of miles he's always gone but it seems the other horses are going faster," said Goldberg. The owner is excited to come out to the Meadowlands on Saturday to watch his favorite horse compete win, lose or draw. As for his new kid on the block Goldberg sounded as if he would do whatever it takes to see Royal Ice race against the best if he's up to it. "We put up $62,500 to supplement Arch Madness to the Breeders Crown against an undefeated horse," the owner reminded. That gamble paid off rather well when Arch Madness defeated Donato Hanover in the Breeders Crown sophomore trot at the Meadowlands in 2007. Seven years later Arch Madness is still going strong and will join his three-year-old stablemate Royal Ice on the big stage Saturday. by Jay Bergman, for the Hambletonian Notes Team  

With six Breeders Crown titles trainer Joe Holloway knows what it takes to make a champion. His Jennas Beach Boy captured Crowns in three consecutive years between 1994 and 1996.   On Saturday, despite having the fastest pacing filly or mare of all time in Shebestingin, Holloway will be trying for win number seven as somewhat of an outsider looking in.   “I Luv The Nitelife has been a lot like Captaintreacherous,” said Holloway. “Horses get close but they don’t go by.”   Earlier this season Holloway was extremely high on his Bettors Delight-sired filly and expected her to be among the elite in the division. Entering the $500,000 Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly final on Saturday Shebestingin has yet to defeat division leader I Luv The Nitelife.   “You really can’t make excuses,” said Holloway, “She just hasn’t gotten it done yet.” But if there is ever going to be a time for Shebestingin to step up it would be now, off the most explosive mile in the sport’s illustrious history.   The last time the slick filly raced competitively she shattered the world mark for three-year-old pacing fillies winning the Glen Garnsey Memorial by open lengths in an astonishing 1:47. The victory came a week removed from a 1:49 victory in the first week of Grand Circuit action at Lexington’s Red Mile.   “I thought the first week she’d have a chance to break the world record but she was three deep in the turn and off the turn and that doesn’t help over that track,” said Holloway.   “To be honest I thought she could beat it the second week but I never thought she would pace a mile in 1:47,” Holloway said. “I mean David (driver Miller) was hollering at her down the stretch but she was very strong to the wire.”   Since Lexington Shebestingin returned and trained a mile last Saturday at Pocono to keep sharp and will mostly jog miles heading into Saturday’s key confrontation.   On paper there’s really not that much separating the two fillies. Shebestingin has won nine of 15 starts this season and has gone some seriously fast miles winning races against every other filly in the division with the exception of I Luv The Nitelife.   With post five inside I Luv The Nitelife on Saturday one might think that Shebestingin has an advantage. That may not be the case. I Luv The Nitelife started outside Shebestingin in the Lynch Memorial in June at Mohegan Sun at Pocono.   In that mile I Luv The Nitelife actually got to the front before Shebestingin did and parked her rival to the half before she made the front.   The two fillies have contrasting styles with I Luv The Nitelife far more comfortable on the lead or in the pocket. Shebestingin has managed to beat the top fillies in the division on the front end when I Luv The Nitelife was not in the race, but at other times she’s been a tiger stalking and exploding off cover.   What does Holloway hope happens on Saturday?   “I’d like to see both horses get a good trip and for us to win,” he said.   The last time the two fillies met was in the Valley Forge at Pocono in August, a race that Shebestingin never was involved in. The filly acted up behind the gate and broke stride leaving the decision to her rival without a fight. At The Red Mile the same thing almost cost her a chance at a world record. She caused a recall before getting her act together the second time around and becoming the fastest female pacer of all time.   Earlier in the season Holloway was concerned that his filly would ease up in the stretch once on the lead. He cautioned driver Miller to keep her mind on business and not to let her lose focus. It was evident in her record mile that the filly had learned from her mistakes with a startling :27 final quarter. On Saturday Shebestingin will not be racing against a teletimer and Holloway seems to know that. Ideally he’d love to see I Luv The Nitelife get used a little while his filly gets to relax.   “I think Authorize is coming into the race in great shape,” said Holloway perhaps alluding to a potential early speed horse that could at least make the pace more honest.   Of course the field also includes last year’s Breeders Crown winner Somwherovrarainbow. “She’s got a lot of talent and could decide to leave,” said Holloway of the defending champion.   With $438,664 banked this year it’s hard for Holloway to consider the season less than successful. At the same time adding another Breeders Crown victory to the five he’s already won for owners Lee and Linda DeVisser would be special. Long time patrons Val D’Or Farms and Ted Gewertz also share ownership in the world champion filly.   “You’ve got to show up and race well even when you’re not at the top of your game,” said Holloway generalizing what it takes to be considered a champion racehorse.   He does however expect Shebestingin to be at the top of her game on Saturday.   By Jay Bergman for the Breeders Crown  

For a small breeder, having one foal make the Breeders Crown final is exciting.   Paul “Pete” Spears’ Windsong Stables came to prominence in 2004 when Windsongs Legacy captured the Triple Crown of trotting for trainer Trond Smedshammer.   The Windsong name will be in focus on Saturday night with two foals from the late Bax Machine figuring prominently in both the $250,000 Crown Mare Trot and the $500,000 Crown 3-year-old filly trot.   “I recall we purchased Bax Machine in 2001 at the Harrisburg Sale,” said Spears. “She was in foal to Muscles Yankee and I think we paid either $18,000 or $19,000.”   While the daughter of Earl seemed to have a nondescript pedigree, Spears actually favors that approach.   “I especially like to purchase hard-hitting mares that race in Canada,” Spears said. “It really doesn’t matter to me what the sires name is.”   Diversity has been the watchword at Windsong and it has helped cultivate a brand that continues to perform at a high level.   Bax Machine has been a model of consistency no matter what cross Spears chose for her. With 10 foals on the racetrack, Bax Machine was the proverbial sure thing in the breeding shed.   “It doesn’t show up on the USTA site, but her 2005 foal by S Js Caviar (Bring Me Back) was a top colt in Sweden,” said Spears.   What does show up under her pedigree is an extraordinary array of talented trotters from diverse stallion pairings.   Her first colt by Muscles Yankee, named Q Forty Five, was exported and raced well overseas. She was then bred to Angus Hall, Dream Vacation, S Js Caviar, Broadway Hall, Cantab Hall, Windsongs Legacy, Kadabra and Credit Winner.   On Saturday night Bax Of Life, the true Windsong-bred mare—being a daughter of Windsongs Legacy and Bax Machine—appears to have the best chance of success.   The 5-year-old mare, trained by Jerry Duford and driven by John Campbell landed post three fresh off an impressive 1:52.4 victory in last week’s Crown elimination. The gritty mare has improved with age, earning more than $300,000 over the last two years, a far cry from the just under $90,000 she banked as a 2- and 3-year-old combined.   Trainer Jim Raymer entered Bouncing Bax in the Crown because he believed the daughter of Credit Winner deserved a chance. She entered last week’s Crown eliminations on the strength of a five-race winning streak that included the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes final at Yonkers. Though that streak ended with a fifth place finish in her Breeders Crown elimination, driver Howard Parker seemed undeterred.   “I thought she raced very well,” said Parker. “She got a little fumbly on the final turn and I had to steady her. She’ll race better next week.”   The New York Sire Stakes program has helped Bouncing Bax earn $367,713 in her first two years of racing.   “She’s very good gaited and she’s very comfortable on the half-mile track,” said Raymer. “I think she’ll be a little better next year.”   While Bax Machine has yet to produce a world champion, she’s given more to the sport in the longevity her foals have had on the racetrack. Just look at Never Bax Down, her second foal by Ontario-sire Angus Hall who raced 180 times between 2007 and 2011.   Baximum, Bax Machine’s 2007 foal by Cantab Hall, was a Grand Circuit winner as a 2- and 3-year-old and is approaching $400,000 in career earnings.   The saga for owner Spears came to an end last year when Bax Machine was injured prior to foaling her Muscle Massive-sired colt.   “She foaled on three legs,” said Spears. “Mares generally don’t get better after that.”   Bax Machine did her motherly duty and nursed her foal until the youngster was weaned some three months later.   “We could have done a procedure on her,” said Spears, “But it was risky with no guarantee of success.”   Bax Machine ultimately was humanely put down and her final foal—Fighting Bax—goes on the auction block Nov. 4 at the Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg.   Spears says he’s had fun naming the foals of Bax Machine, who was named as a tribute to Ontario horseman John Bax, who trained the $2.1 millionaire Goodtimes.   Spears is grateful for the success of Windsong Stable mares, having had the good fortune to do well with mares others cast aside. He’s bred a diverse group to a wide range of stallions and come up with solid stakes trotters. Triple Crown winner Windsongs Legacy’s dam Yankee Windsong died prematurely after her champion was born. Bax Machine’s greatest accomplishment, producing two exceptional Breeders Crown finalists, comes a year after her passing.   On the positive side, the bloodlines of Windsongs Legacy and Bax Machine will be around for some time, especially if two of Windsongs Legacy’s more famous sons —Chapter Seven and Lucky Chucky—turn out to be successful in the breeding shed. Win, lose or draw, Windsong Stables has carved out quite a niche on the trotting breed.   By Jay Bergman for the Breeders Crown  

Earlier this year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs when Cooler Schooner trotted the fastest mile ever by a two-year-old filly there were many in the harness world unwilling to believe a 1:51 3/5 mile was possible. In that Pennsylvania Sire Stakes mile the Jim Campbell-trained filly defeated Merrie Annabelle champion Shake It Cerry, a filly driver Ron Pierce had earlier proclaimed “The best two-year-old filly” he’d ever sat behind. Included among Pierce’s prior mounts was 2011 Breeders Crown champion Check Me Out. Then another filly emerged with talent and speed worthy of potential top billing. Her name is Designed To Be and true to her pedigree she was designed to be a great one. The daughter of Donato Hanover took it on the chin initially behind Shake It Cerry in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes competition but would emerge to capture the state championship at Harrah’s Philadelphia in mid-September. Shake It Cerry faced Designed To Be again during Grand Circuit action at Lexington’s Red Mile and this time she proved the strongest in the stretch setting yet another world record of 1:52 2/5. Though slower than Cooler Schooner’s effort over a five-eighths track, Designed To Be was as impressive in victory. Trainer Jimmy Takter last year sent out would-be superstar To Dream On to a Breeders Crown title at Woodbine. She was indeed a dream last year though slow to find her best stride as a three-year-old.  Takter trains Shake It Cerry as well as Lifetime Pursuit, a winner in six of nine starts this year including a 1:52 3/5 effort in the second week of Grand Circuit racing at the Red Mile. The Takter tandem finished one-two in the $321,700 Merrie Annabelle final at the Meadowlands earlier this year with Shake It Cerry, a homebred daughter of Donato Hanover from the top stakes filly Solveig, winning in a personal best 1:53 3/5 clocking a stakes record that eclipsed her stablemate To Dream On’s mark of 1:54 taken in 2012. “This is the best group of two-year-old fillies I have ever seen,” declared Takter. “Both Lifetime Pursuit and Shake It Cerry are very close. I would say that Shake It Cerry is a little better on the big track.” In Shake It Cerry’s last outing she finished a solid closing second to Designed To Be at The Red Mile in a race that perhaps saw her get untracked a few seconds too late.  “Ronnie (driver Pierce) told me after the race that he thinks she could have won if he had gotten her in gear sooner,” said Takter in retrospect. A total of 14 two-year-old fillies were brave enough to enter their Breeders Crown event. That’s a surprising number considering the immense talent among the  aforementioned division leaders but these are young trotters, and sometimes they lack polish on the racetrack. For example Cooler Schooner may be the fastest trotter in the world, but over the last few weeks she’s had a hard time rating the pace and has fallen victim to closers. Her problems early this season were getting away cleanly without making a break. Hall of Fame driver John Campbell convinced his brother, trainer Jim, to try to keep her calm and let her do her thing without much restraint. The result of that effort was the 1:51 3/5 mile on August 21. While she did follow that effort up with another Pennsylvania Sire Stakes victory at Harrah’s Philadelphia on August 30, her next two races, the Pennsylvania Championship and the Bluegrass at The Red Mile, were futile attempts to cut the pace that left Cooler Schooner, a homebred by Broadway Hall, out of gas during crunch time. On Friday night Cooler Schooner gets the advantage of the rail post position in her elimination heat and the good fortune to have Designed To Be, Shake It Cerry and Lifetime Pursuit facing each other in the first elimination field. New York Sire Stakes champion Market Rally wasn’t as fortunate as Cooler Schooner. Fresh off her impressive score at Yonkers Raceway, the daughter of Cash Hall landed post seven outside the three top fillies in the division. Not only is the two-year-old filly trotting crop bursting with ability, it is also loaded with incredibly well bred fillies likely to make their mark on the racetrack and later in the breeding shed. Take Goddess for instance, a Donato Hanover-sired filly from the 2005 Breeders Crown runner-up Macaria Hanover. Cantabs Fortune has won three of her six starts this year. She’s by the top trotting stallion in the sport Cantab Hall (who also lead all Crown trotting sires in purse earnings in 2012) out of Incredible Fortuna, a Credit Winner-sired filly that finished second in the 2006 NYSS finals. Scott McEneny has another Donato Hanover filly in the field named Demanding Sam. She’s a foal from the 2005 NYSS Final winner Whitesand Samantha. Not only is the field for the Crown juvenile filly trot deep, it is overloaded with Pennsylvania-breds. A dozen fillies in the group were sired in Pennsylvania proving even before the race is over how far the breeding program has come. Whether one of the 14 fillies is ready to join the pantheon of all-time greats remains to be seen.  However, on Oct. 19 one will take her place next to the likes of former freshman trot filly Crown champions like Peace Corps, Winky’s Goal, Continentalvictory and Snow White. by Jay Bergman for the Breeders Crown  

You can tell from talking to trainer Luc Blais that he’s familiar with the old adage-If you take care of the horse the horse will take care of you. Blais, the trainer of last year’s sophomore Breeders Crown champion Intimidate, seems to have no set plans other than to let his horse dictate a course of action. After capturing the $214,000 Credit Winner at Vernon Downs on September 6 in 1:51, it appeared as if Intimidate would have the division at his mercy. “We had him entered at Mohawk (9-30) and I had to scratch him,” said Blais when Intimidate came up sick. It wasn’t until the eleventh hour that the Blais stable veterinarian cleared Intimidate to race, paving the way for entry this past Tuesday in the $600,000 Crown Final at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on October 19. There were no eliminations necessary for the race with just nine declared, so Blais has elected to race Intimidate on Monday (10-14) at Mohawk. “He needs the race,” said Blais who expects to ship Intimidate to Pocono on Wednesday and hopefully give him enough time to acclimate to the track surface. Last year Intimidate came on strongly towards the end of the season and capped it off with an awesome performance when supplemented to the Breeders Crown, taking down Hambletonian winner Market Share, among others, for driver Ron Pierce. This year the altered son of Justice Hall needed some extra time to get his act together and Blais has been more than willing to accommodate him. “He wasn’t ready for the big track (Mohawk or Woodbine) so we gave him some easier races on the small track starting out,” said Blais. It was August 19 when Intimidate finally made his debut at Mohawk, which meant missing some big races, including the Maple Leaf Trot, a race he surely would have been favored to win. It may have been late in the season, but Intimidate was set to go when he first raced at Mohawk, and fortunately was eligible to compete in a level below the top class in his first assignment. With Sylvain Filion in the bike Intimidate showed the same impressive late stride, scoring in 1:52 1/5  with a :26 3/5 final quarter. He followed that up by taking on the best horses at Mohawk and winning in 1:52. When Intimidate shipped to Vernon for the Credit Winner he was not only on foreign soil for the first time in his career, but was also pitted against some of the best and more seasoned older trotting performers in North America. Reunited with Ron Pierce, Intimidate was able to knife his way out of traffic and finish with incredible acceleration to post a track record 1:51 mile. What caught the attention of Pierce and many of those watching was the relative ease with which Intimidate accelerated and passed horses. But this year’s Breeders Crown will not be contested on a mile or seven-eighths mile track. Pocono’s circumference is a five-eighths mile and the track is known to favor speed horses as opposed to closers. Blais deflected any concern for race strategy. “I’ll leave that up to Ron (Pierce).  He showed speed last year in the Simcoe,” said Blais, recalling the first trip Pierce sat behind Intimidate. It was an awesome effort in which Pierce got Intimidate down to the three quarters in 1:22 4/5 only to get beaten on the wire in a 1:51 4/5 stakes record mile. Prior to that effort Intimidate had never gone a mile faster than 1:56 1/5. While the number of races under his girth this year have gone down, Intimidate continues to do what all trainers want most-win races. Last year he captured 13 of 17 starts and heading into Monday’s prep for the Crown Intimidate has won six of seven starts, losing one early after making a break. Other than the number of starts Blais sees Intimidate as a bigger and stronger horse. His careful management with the horse has set Intimidate up for the big miles and many experts in the field believe the horse is capable of trotting a mile in 1:50 or better. Given the track surface and the impressive number of world records already set this year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it’s within reason to expect this year’s Breeders Crown Trot to go in that neighborhood. “I definitely think he’s got the speed,” said Blais in the response to whether Intimidate could get that type of record. But Blais is not counting his money just yet. He admits that the group of horses Intimidate is in with in the Crown is much stronger than the field he beat in last year’s Breeders Crown. “This is a nice bunch of four-year-olds. It’s good that the fans will get to see so many good older trotters in one race. We’re lucky to have so many,” said Blais. Despite some bumps in the road Intimidate is likely to enter the Crown just as sharp as he was a year ago. Blais was fortunate that the gelding recovered from some minor ailments and has been cleared to attempt back-to-back Crown victories. After the Crown Blais doesn’t seem to have any specific goals in mind. He wouldn’t commit to sending the horse to Europe to race as a five-year-old or even whether he would continue to race him this season. No doubt he’ll let Intimidate tell him what the next move should be. by Jay bergman for the Breeders Crown

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  

Growing up in a big city there were few things to be envious of.  We had it all.  Well, as harness fans we had two of the sport’s most iconic tracks in Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways, but when it came to the sport’s signature event, The Hambletonian, we were miles from where it was happening. In the fall of 1976 The Meadowlands ushered in a new era for the sport. For those of us “half-milers” the one-mile strip had the allure of all of those speedy tracks in the Midwest that annually held State Fairs accompanied by the greatest the sport had to offer. The Grand Circuit’s mile tracks gave the sport’s stars the opportunity to race in heats and generally race faster than they would anywhere else. It just seemed natural that industry leaders would find a way to blend our rich tradition with our obvious future. In 1981 the Hambletonian arrived at the Meadowlands under less than ideal weather conditions. It arrived with many of the same faces that graced the Grand Circuit. It also came with an advanced purse structure more befitting the character the sport had attained in the New York City region.  It would be simple to start the history lesson with Shiaway St. Pat’s victory. It’s nice that Ray Remmen, the winning driver remains one of the most respected horsemen at the Meadowlands to this day.  Yet my story begins with a man who never won a Hambletonian. However, Carl Allen was hardly a loser that afternoon. He guided longshot Olaf to victory in one heat of the Hambletonian and also guided Pams Key to victory in a heat of the Hambletonian Oaks.  Allen’s saga in the Hambletonian is similar to most trotting horsemen. He wanted to win the race more than any other. In 1995 most people thought his time had finally arrived. The homebred C R Kay Suzie was the best filly of her generation and an odds-on favorite to beat the boys in the Hambletonian after capturing the Yonkers Trot. Sure there was a genuine family story line with Carl’s son Rod driving the filly. There was also some dissent because C R Kay Suzie would race with trotting hopples. Purists far and wide (and most Europeans) believed that no true trotter should wear hopples and that they should be prohibited from use in the sport’s most elite race. Maybe like all great inventions, 1995 was too soon for the gear Carl Allen had modified and maximized to be fully accepted. That’s the only plausible reason I can imagine as to why C R Kay Suzie made a break that day as the 1-10 favorite in her Hambletonian elimination. Over the 32 years at the Meadowlands the race has evolved when necessary to more accurately resemble challenges of the day. What has never changed is the openness and availability of the race to those from North America and overseas. The universal appeal of the Hambletonian is something that was nurtured and grew at the Meadowlands. It’s hard to imagine another race having the same allure that would draw a Ulf Thoresen (Nuclear Kosmos 1986) or a Stefan Melander (Scarlet Knight 2001) to come to these shores and succeed.  One would have to think that location, location, location is a major reason why Canadians based in Ontario made the pilgrimage to East Rutherford and enjoyed the ultimate prize in 2000 (Yankee Paco), 2003 (Amigo Hall) and again in 2006 with Glidemaster. It is this type of diversity that has set the Hambletonian apart in its stay in New Jersey. In DuQuoin the greats of the sport were prominent with the Dancers and Haughtons winning with regularity. The canvas has been spread much wider since the race arrived in the Metropolitan New York area. While the race isn’t going anywhere for some time, the 2013 edition marks the last time the horses will cross the wire in front of the current grandstand. With building fast reaching its completion the 2014 Hambletonian’s finish wire will be on the current backstretch. Much like the Hambletonian, however, the shift in grandstand will do little to shift the drama and excitement the race creates for the sport each and every year. It’s hard not to look back and recall some of the greatest moments in the sport’s long history taking place in the Hambletonian or on Hambletonian Day. It’s a race that has been filled with epic drama. In 1983 for example Hall of Famer Stanley Dancer’s stable would suffer a crippling blow in July when likely Hambo favorite Dancers Crown would succumb to severe intestinal issues. Dancer enlisted his brilliant filly Duenna to fill the void and her victory was bittersweet to all. The 1983 Hambletonian was the first to offer a $1 million purse putting it on similar footing with many of the Meadowlands other signature events. It was hard to argue with the Meadowlands brass when they called upon the Hambletonian Society to shift eliminations to a week before the final. That move took place in 1997 and it was in response to the creation of a week-long Hambletonian Festival, adding Breeders Crown races, maximizing betting and attracting international simulcasting. Still it was sad at the time to see an end to what appeared to be a time-honored tradition of heat racing. One of the most exciting periods for the race in New Jersey came in the mid-90’s with the emergence of Valley Victory as a unique and powerful presence in the stallion ranks. Valley Victorys hit the ground trotting and changed the landscape dramatically with Victory Dream (1994), the filly Continentalvictory (1996) and Muscles Yankee (1997). But 1999 may stand out as one of, if not the greatest, crop of trotters the sport has seen. At least that’s the way it appeared to be shaking out leading up to the Hambletonian that year. Self Possessed’s (by Victory Dream) 1:51 3/5 record-setting performance on that afternoon still stands out not just for the final time but for the quality of the horses that the colt left in the dust that afternoon. Vivid Photo and Roger Hammer winning the 2005 edition was a moment in time few will forget. For me Roger Hammer seemed the least likely candidate to emerge from the fairs of Pennsylvania onto the big stage. What made this race special is the obvious miscalculation of the experts. Hammer had been known for most of his career as a driver who liked the front end. When he employed the opposite strategy in the first $1.5 million Hambletonian (of his or any other driver’s career) it fulfilled the “No Guts, No Glory” prophecy. It certainly seemed fitting that horses bred in New Jersey would be good enough to take on the world. Muscles Yankee had a streak of his own with his sons Deweycheatumnhowe (2008), Muscle Hill (2009) and Muscle Massive (2010) distinguishing themselves for varied reasons. Deweycheatumnhowe became the first colt to win the race wearing the trotting hopples Carl Allen had mastered. Muscle Hill set the world record of 1:50 1/5 in a dynamic performance that winning trainer Greg Peck still hasn’t stopped talking about. And Muscle Massive became the most expensive yearling ($425,000) to win the race. The race returns to eliminations and final on one afternoon, for two trips around the course this Saturday afternoon. Though the Hambletonian has moved venues in the past, the next chapter in the race’s rich history remains on sound footing. In an era were few things remain the same for long, it’s refreshing that in this case tradition has triumphed with New Meadowlands home sweet home for the Hambletonian. by Jay Bergman for the Hambletonian Society  

Tuesday night saw the running of the first four Blue Chip Farms Breeders Crown repechages and it wasn’t without upsets. The very first heat saw Our Petite Soeur, from the Emma Stewart camp, upstage her more fancied rivals. The little filly, who is a half-sister to Our Femme Fatale, was able to find and hold the lead from barrier position two. Race favourite Te Amo Bromac dropped onto the leaders back in the early stages and was reeling in the winner up the straight but couldn’t catch her, going down by a half-neck on the line. Luda, who had the one by two trail mid-race, was a close up third with a margin back to fourth. Our Petite Soeur finished the race in a mile rate of 1:59.2 with the last half coming in 57.0. Favourite punters had some reprieve in the next as exciting filly Quick Draft made amends behind Mindarie Priddy in her heat. The David Aiken-trained daughter of Art Major ended up one out and one back mid-race but got the upper hand late, scoring by just under two metres from the Des McQueen winner Fon Design and the Susan Hunter-trained Still In Denial. The mile rate was a slightly slower 2:00.9 with the last half being recorded at 57.8. The colts and geldings had their shot at Breeders Crown glory in the next repechage and it was the upset of the night with A Bit  Ruthless having the cold sit on the odds-on favourite before securing an inside run in the straight and racing clear at the post. Handsome Major had nothing to left to challenge as the $24 roughie steamed clear by almost four metres with Loong Nien safely holding third. With a mile rate of 2:00.8, the winner was timed to run his last half in 57.4. The last qualifier saw a dominant performance from New Zealand’s champion Two-Year-Old Colt or Gelding in Our Sky Major. The Harness Jewels winner drew two but was quickly to the front for Barry and Mark Purdon. After having a slight breather in his first quarter, Purdon kept his charge running, recording the quickest mile rate of the four race in 1:57.3. Bespoke Artist was a solid second albeit nearly six metres away, while Hectorjayjay held third, a further 14 metres behind. The last half came in a brilliant 55.2 and has set Our Sky Major up to be one of the horses to beat come semi-final night when the Blue Chip Farms Breeders Crown returns to Bray Raceway. by Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

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