Meadowlands Pace elims set stage for final

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Ted Black

July 14th, 2015

When the top three-year-old colt pacers in North America met last weekend in a pair of eliminations for this Saturday's $750,000 Meadowlands Pace final, many onlookers expected four sophomores to leave a lasting impression. Three of them delivered on that promise, but the fourth continued a string of inconsistent efforts to start the campaign although he did earn a spot in the final.

In the first of the two Meadowlands Pace eliminations last Saturday evening, Artspeak (Scott Zeron) was sent out as the 1-2 favorite from post four although his start to the season has been anything but stellar. After winning an elimination and then subsequent final for the New Jersey Sire Stakes over the Big M strip, Artspeak had been second in the North America Cup elim and fifth in the final and then won a Max Hempt Memorial elim and finished second in that final.

Last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer looked to regain his winning ways last Saturday in a split in which only In The Arsenal (Brian Sears), hero of the Art Rooney final at Yonkers Raceway and a fellow combatant in both the North America Cup and Max Hempt finals, figured to pose any competition to Artspeak. But chalkplayers and a host of bridgejumpers soon found out that the champ is hardly in peak form right now.

When the gate folded in that Meadowlands Pace elim, In The Arsenal and Artspeak both left alertly to secure the top two spots and In The Arsenal actually led the way by the opener in 27.2 and then got a breather by the half in 56.1 with Artspeak tucked neatly in the pocket and in an ideal spot to either pounce on the leader of complete the exacta. After In The Arsenal raced unpressed by three-quarters in 1:23.3, only Artspeak had any chance of overtaking the leader.

At the top of the lane, In The Arsenal still had plenty in reserve and he edged away from Artspeak and longshots Dude's The Man (Corey Callahan) and Dealt A Winner (David Miller) to score by two lengths in 1:49.1. But after sitting a pocket trip behind the second choice through modest fractions, Artspeak had nothing left for the stretch drive and faded to fourth - inflating show prices - as the favorite suffered his fourth setback in seven starts this year after losing only twice in 10 outings last season.

In The Arsenal now sports a 5-1-1 slate and $355,000 from eight starts this year for trainer Kelvin Harrison and looks like a major contender for the Meadowlands Pace this weekend. Longshots Dealt A Winner and Dude's The Man raced well in defeat, but Artspeak delivered another dull outing and is starting to acquire as many detractors as fans. A win in a major race soon could reverse that trend, but thus far this season Artspeak has been the pacing equivalent to Father Patrick.

Several races later on the card in the second Meadowlands Pace elim, form held well as favored Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) rallied third over to overhaul Wakizashi Hanover (Tim Tetrick) to score by a length in 1:48.4. Wiggle It Jiggleit has now won 13 of 14 starts this year and 14 of 15 career outings for trainer George Teague, Jr. of Rainbow Blue fame and he will look to add to his budding resume in this weekend's final against several familiar foes.

Wakizashi Hanover delivered a very good effort in defeat and owns a solid 6-2-0 slate and $560,000 bankroll from nine starts this year for trainer Joann Looney-King. An unlucky fourth in the Max Hempt final, Wakizashi Hanover is the only horse to ever defeat Wiggle It Jiggleit and the two will get reacquainted this weekend in the Meadowlands Pace final. Wakizashin Hanover ended Wiggle It's perfect career with a narrow victory in the $1 million North America Cup final at Mohawk last month.

One race earlier on the card, JL Cruze (John Campbell) continued his genuine Cinderella season with a gritty, wire-to-wire score in the $250,000 Graduate Series final for four-year-old trotters. Trained by Eric Ell for owner Kenny Wood, JL Cruze has now won 15 of 17 starts and earned nearly $400,000 this year and his latest victory came only days after Wood lost his adopted son, Andy Wood, to cancer. JL Cruze has emerged as the top trotter in North America and he has already defeated Father Patrick three times in as many meetings.