Weekend Harness Preview for 7/12/2014

Molly Jo Rosen

July 12th, 2014

by Ted Black

While thoroughbred racing fans might have already witnessed the height of the sophomore season with the Triple Crown races and California Chrome's near miss at immortality, harness racing fans are just getting into the swing of serious stakes action that continues with tonight's stellar card at The Meadowlands.

Although it may be a little ambitious to compare this evening's card at The Meadowlands with the program that Belmont Park unveiled on Belmont Stakes day, the New Jersey miler is adept at putting on a grand show. All but two of the races on tonight's Big M program are stakes and unlike the cards at Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont on their biggest days, the program does not needlessly begin two hours earlier than normal or extend an hour later than usual.

The centerpiece on this evening's card at the Meadowlands is the 38th edition of the Meadowlands Pace, one of the most coveted races for three-year-old colt pacers. The race has been won by some of the sport's greatest pacers, including Niatross, Nihilator, Beach Towel and Real Desire and is perennially one of the genuine Grade I races that owners, trainers and drivers mark high on their seasonal wish list. But it is only one of 10 stakes on the card, so let's start from the beginning.

In the opening race on the night, the $100,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes final for two-year-old colt trotters, the field of 10 freshmen are looking to garner some early success before heading into the major open stakes this summer and fall. Three of them having potential to be budding stars.

French Laundry (Jimmy Takter) won his career debut on June 27 by six lengths as the 3-5 choice in 1:56, gets the rail and looms the serious favorite. Canepa Hanover (Yannick Gingras) broke stride as the 3-10 choice in his career debut while making a backside brush and will be a major player for Takter if he can return to the form that enabled him to score in 1:56.1 in a baby race here last month. Guess Whos Back (Brian Sears) won at first asking in 1:57 for trainer Nikolas Drennan.

One race later the freshman fillies will be on display in a $100,000 NJSS final for two-year-old filly trotters. Much of the attention will be focused on the two fillies who drew outside - Mission Brief and Saturday Mornings. Mission Brief (Gingras) broke stride in her career debut but came right back to win next out in 1:55.1 for trainer Ron Burke. Saturday Mornings won at first asking in 1:57.2 for trainer Joe Holloway, then was trounced by Mission Brief last out.

Two races later in the $317,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial for three-year-old colt trotters, onlookers will continue to get a glimpse of the sophomores whose main goal is the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian at this venue next month. Among the bulky field of 12 sophomores are three talented trotters from the same barn who are all looking to peak over the next three weeks.

Trainer Jimmy Takter holds a trio of aces in the Stanley Dancer and while one of them is the solid favorite to win this event and the future book favorite to garner the coveted Hambo, either one of them could truly peak next month.

Father Patrick is the defending division champ, having won 10 of 11 starts last year, and he has done little to damage his reputation this spring or summer. Father Patrick (Gingras) has won all five of his starts this year, including the recent $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial at Pocono Downs by three lengths in 1:50.2. He will likely be the 3-5 favorite this evening while leaving from post nine.

Another Takter trainee who has won all five of six starts this year is Trixton, a son of Muscle Hill that Takter also drives. Trixton won the Simpson Stakes and a NJSS final over this track before venturing to Canada to capture the $250,000 Goodtimes at Mohawk. He has since tuned up for this event by taking a local qualifier by 10 lengths in 1:53.2, but he will start from post 12 in the second tier this evening and will need plenty of racing luck.

The third Takter trainee with Hambo aspirations is Nuncio (John Campbell) who has won four of five starts this year and his lone setback was a second-place finish behind Father Patrick in the Beal. Nuncio has never been worse than second in 15 career starts, although this will be the first time that he will have to contend with both of his equally talented stablemates in the same affair.

One race later in the $213,500 Del Miller Memorial for three-year-old trotting fillies, all of which are eagerly pointing for the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, a pair of sophomore ladies will draw most of the support.

Designed To Be (Brian Sears) has won both of her starts this year for trainer Julie Miller and six of 10 career outings and has the rail for this event, while defending champion Shake It Cerry (Ron Pierce) will start from post seven for Takter having won four of five starts this year and 12 of 16 career outings. Each of the other nine starters will likely go postward at 12-1 or higher.

Then one race later in the sixth, the $212,150 Mistletoe Shalee final for three-year-old pacing fillies, much of the attention will go toward Sandbetweenurtoes (Brett Miller) who prevailed in last week's elim as the 3-2 favorite in 1:49.1 to remain perfect in five starts this year for trainer Larry Remmen.

But elim runner-up Table Talk (Tim Tetrick), pacesetter Gallie Bythe Beach (Campbell) and Precocious Beauty (Doug McNair) last year's freshman filly pacing champ who rallied to finish fourth, all merit respect. Fan Hanover winner Uffizi Hanover, Lynch elim winner Weeper and Rock N Roll Xample all accepted byes into the final.

One race later in the $178,450 Golden Girls for pacing fillies and mares, the group includes many of the best distaffers on the continent.

Anndrovette (Tetrick), winner of both the Betsy Ross and the Roses Are Red final, seeks her 40th lifetime tally for trainer PJ Fraley. Somwherovrarainbow (Sears), who owns a 6-3-1 slate and 1:48 mark and prior score in the $375,000 Bluechip Matchmaker series final at Yonkers Raceway is out of Rainbow Blue, the 2004 harness horse of the year. Shebestingin (David Miller) has won 18 of 29 lifetime outings for trainer Joe Holloway and is always a major player.

Then one race later in the $463,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older pacers, much of the focus will be on the resurging Sweet Lou (Pierce), the 2011 champion two-year-old colt pacing champ who has rebounded from a pair of subpar campaigns to emerge as the best aged pacer in the land.

Sweet Lou has reeled off five straight wins for trainer Ron Burke, including a recent 1:47 score in the $500,000 Ben Franklin at Pocono Downs. He had rebounded from several dull outings in the Levy to capture two consecutive FFA events at The Meadowlands and then won the $160,000 Roll With Joe at Tioga Downs in 1:48.3. He will likely be the odds-on favorite again despite two notable foes.

Drawing just to his inside is Captaintreacherous (Tetrick), last year's champion three-year-old colt pacer and two-time defending pacer of the year. Last season the 'Captain' won 13 of 16 starts and earned over $2 million, but this year he is one for three and was a nondescript fifth in the Ben Franklin last month.

Two other Burke trainees may find it difficult to overtake razor sharp stablemate, Sweet Lou. Clear Vision, who has won only twice in 14 starts this year but owns 25 wins and $1.9 million banked from 150 career outings, has won at this level before. Foiled Again, the sport's all-time winningest pacer with $6.3 million in earnings, has won 80 of 209 starts but is winless since an April 12 Levy elim and will start from post 10 this evening.

Last, but certainly not least for this preview, is the Grade I, $776,000 Meadowlands Pace for three-year-old colt pacers, one of the sport's most coveted events and one of the major races won last year by Captaintreacherous who is racing in the Haughton.

Last week's elim winners were JK Endofanera (Sears) and He's Watching (Tetrick) and their connections opted to select posts two and three, respectively, for the final. The other eight horses that qualified for the final were given post positions in the normal, random draw which took place last Saturday night.

JK Endofanera barely lived up to his role as the 2-5 favorite in his elim last week, but he will likely be much sharper for the final. One month earlier in the North America Cup elim at Mohawk, JK Endofanera failed miserably as the 1-2 choice, drifted out late and settled for third. But he rebounded to take the $1 million NA Cup final as an overlooked 12-1 shot in a race that set up well for him.

He's Watching, last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer, is looking to follow in the 'Captain's hoof prints and become the latest freshman champ to win the Meadowlands Pace. He's Watching was dismal in the Art Rooney elims, but he rebounded to win the Somebeachsomewhere at Mohawk, finished second in his NA Cup elim and third in the final and last week he was a sharp winner following a second over journey.

But there is no guarantee JK Endofanera and He's Watching will complete the exacta in the Meadowlands Pace. Tellitlikeitis (Brett Miller) was the beaten favorite in his Pace elim and was also the beaten choice in the NA Cup final and could rebound this evening at a big price. Luck Be With You (Pierce) has yet to display the form that carried him to the Breeders Crown score, but Pierce has remained loyal. Lyonssomewhere (Gingras) won a NA Cup elim and was an unlucky fifth in that final. Always B Miki (David Miller) raced well second over to finish second behind 'JK' last week and could work out a trip from post nine.

Then in the 10th, the $40,000 Miss Versatility for trotting mares, Bee A Magician (Sears) and Perfect Alliance (David Miller) renew their rivalry. Bee A Magician, last year's horse of the year when she won all 17 of her starts, has been second three times in four winless starts but was a good second against older boys last week in the Hambletonian Maturity. Perfect Alliance has won 11 of 12 starts this year and is the reigning queen of this division until Bee A Magician can regain her sophomore form.