This weekend in the USA sees the running of the Breeders Crown Finals meeting at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, in Pennsylvania.
This Grand Circuit meeting will see 12 Breeders Crown championship races contested on Saturday the 27th October, for a total of US$6.4 million in stakes.
This year’s Breeders Crown racing in notable from a Kiwi perspective on several levels.
The Mohegan Sun Pocono complex is located on 400 acres in the hillside of Plains, within easy access of New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware. It is owned by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and is one of the largest and most distinctive and spectacular entertainment, gaming, shopping and dining destinations in Pennsylvania. It was acquired in November 2005 and has continued to evolve to now feature a 238-room hotel with on-site spa, an adjacent 20,000 square foot Convention Centre, an 82,000 square foot gaming area, a variety of dining and shopping options, nightlife and entertainment, as well as of course harness racing on the 5/8 mile (1,000m) track.
Firstly, from a breeding viewpoint, it is interesting to note that the Final fields for both the $600,000 2YO Pacing Fillies and the $600,000 2YO Pacing Colts, are entirely made up of progeny of stallions that are or have previously been available to New Zealand breeders. The juveniles in the fillies Final are by Somebeachsomewhere (2), American Ideal, Captaintreacherous (3), Sweet Lou, McArdle, Heston Blue Chip, Art Major and Well Said. The colts are by A Rocknroll Dance, Sweet Lou (4), Well Said, Captaintreacherous (3), Somebeachsomewhere and Western Ideal.
In the $600,000 2YO Trotting Fillies Final, sires include Muscle Hill (3), Father Patrick (2), Trixton and Crazed, all of who are available in New Zealand. In the $600,000 2YO Trotting Colts Final, sires include Father Patrick, Muscle Hill (4) and Trixton, who are also all available in New Zealand.
Also, with a New Zealand connection, is the leading North American racemare of this season, the New Zealand bred Shartin. She is by Tintin In America, a much-underrated stallion who was raced by the Auckland Trotting Club 2008 Syndicate in New Zealand, being a dual Jewels winner and 5-time Group 1 winner before being sold to stand at stud, firstly in New Zealand, then in Australia, where he has served very limited number of mares during his stud career to date.
Shartin was bred by Grant Crabbe from the race-winning Live Or Die mare Bagdarin and was sold to Australian interests before racing in New Zealand, going on to race 13 times for 7 wins and 3 seconds, for $105,718 in stakes money and was the winner of the Group 2 Queensland Oaks and the Group 3 Tasmanian Oaks. She was then sold to the USA in November last year and in a remarkable career to date there is now on target to become the first pacing mare in history to win a million dollars in a single season. The now 5-year-old, has won 17 of 22 races this season and earned a massive $833,361 and will get her chance in the $270,000 Breeders Crown Final Mare Pace on Saturday to surpass Dreamfair Eternal’s seasonal earnings record for a pacing mare of $925,575 set in 2010, as well as edge closer to the million-dollar mark.
Shartin won her Breeders Crown elimination last weekend in 1:52 and will start a hot favourite from Barrier No.2 in the Final. A supplement to the Breeders Crown of $31,250 was paid to allow Shartin to compete, so it would be a fantastic boost to the New Zealand breeding scene if she was to be triumphant, as no other NZ-bred has ever won a North American Breeders Crown Final, although Under Cover Lover and Tupelo Rose went close when each finished third in their respective 3YO Pacing Fillies Finals in 1999 and 2002.
Other runners in the field, Pure Country and Call Me Queen Be are both previous Breeders Crown champions and Pure Country is also attempting to create history in attempting to become just the fourth pacer to win three Breeders Crown titles, following in the footsteps of Jenna’s Beach Boy, Eternal Camnation and My Little Dragon. Pure Country won as a 2 and 4-year-old and is attempting to become the first back-to-back winner since Shelliscape in 2014.
The New Zealand connection is further evident in the Open Pace, where champion down-under pacer Lazarus features. Once again up against his arch rival in North America in McWicked, who is this season’s richest harness horse in North America with $1.17 million in earnings so far, the pair have drawn side-by-side in the $430,000 Final Open Pace.
Lazarus has drawn Barrier No.2 and McWicked at No.3, making for an enthralling contest. McWicked is currently the 5-2 favourite, with Lazarus at 3-1, with the Open Pace being the only Breeders Crown division that did not require eliminations. Lazarus also required a $50,000 supplement to make him eligible to take his place in the series.
The Kiwi connections in this race are of course that Lazarus was bred (by G Chin and Studholme Bloodstock Limited) and owned (by Philip and Glenys Kennard, Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley) in New Zealand before being sold for huge money to USA interests earlier this year and that McWicked, who won a Breeders Crown as a 3-year-old in 2014, is trained by Casie Coleman, the wife of Mark Herlihy, son of champion NZ driver Tony Herlihy and his wife Suzanne.
McWicked has justified favouritism, having won the Dan Rooney Invitational Pace at Yonkers on 13th October and before that the Allerage Farms Open at the Red Mile on 6th October, where he paced the second-fastest race mile in history of 1:46.2 in defeating Lazarus by three-quarters of a length. Lazarus was scratched from the Dan Rooney Invitational after getting sick and will be looking for a win in the Breeders Crown to earn him an invitation to next month’s TVG Series championship. If McWicked is to win on Saturday, he will join 2012 champion Bettor Sweet and 2013 champion Foiled Again as the only Open Pace winners older than 6 years old.
Lazarus’ trainer, the soon-to-be-retired Jimmy Takter, has won a record 33 Breeders Crown Finals and will have 14 horses competing in this year’s event. Takter won his first Breeders Crown in 1993 with the 2-year-old trotting filly Gleam and his champions have included three horses that were subsequently named Horse of the Year, in Malabar Man, Moni Maker, and Always B Miki. Takter describes his 2015 Breeders Crown as a career highlight, where he won a record six Finals and more than $2 million in stakes at Woodbine Racetrack. Takter also trains the trotter Pinkman in the Final Open Trot, who was Trotter of the Year as a 3-year-old in 2015 when his wins included the Hambletonian and he along with McWicked are chasing history to become only the second horse ever to win a second Breeders Crown Final four years after winning their first, after the feat was accomplished by the trotter Wesgate Crown who won as a 2-year-old in 1993 and then again as a 6-year-old in 1997.
Jimmy Takter has said of Lazarus leading into this weekend’s racing, “He feels very sharp. His blood work has been going in the right direction, so he should be all right. The Breeders Crown was my goal the whole year, but I didn’t count on him being sick after Lexington. I’d like to have another start in him, but he feels really good. This is one of the more interesting races on the card, I think. People love to see these horses.”
Lazarus’ owner Duncan Taylor, of Taylor Made Stallions, has reported to Harness Racing New Zealand that Lazarus’s racing future is “still to be determined” beyond this weekend, so let’s hope for the best and hope that all New Zealand-related participants do well.
GOOD LUCK and GO THE KIWIS !!!