Thursday, July 24, 2014


It’s Magic


By Ken Weingartner

After watching Bee A Magician put together an 18-race win streak that began at age 2 and covered her entire 3-year-old season, harness racing fans wanted to know what was wrong with the 2013 Horse of the Year as she went winless in her first four starts this season.

Not much, says trainer Nifty Norman, other than the fact that winning is difficult.

“Lots of people have said to me that she’s been no good, but only once really,” Norman said. “Her first start was a great run, [second in 1:51.3] right off the bat and she had trot finishing. We kind of raced her easy in her second start and she was second; she was a little bit flat. Then she was sick, but she’s been good again ever since.

“People just expect her to win,” he added with a chuckle. “It’s not that easy; I wish it was. But I think she’s been pretty solid.”

Bee A Magician, owned by Mel Hartman, Herb Liverman, and David McDuffee, returned to her winning ways with a world-record 1:51.1 triumph July 12 in the third round of the Miss Versatility Series at Meadowlands Racetrack. She now holds the records for fastest 3-year-old (1:51) and 4-year-old female trotters in history.

She will try to make it two victories in a row when she meets six rivals in Friday’s second leg of the Ima Lula Series for 4-year-old female trotters at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Bee A Magician and regular driver Brian Sears will start from post one. The rest of the field in post order is Handover Belle, Rockin With Dewey, NF Happenstance, Ma Chere Hall, Mistery Woman, and Classic Martine.

Handover Belle won the Ima Lula’s first round on July 18 by a half-length over Ma Chere Hall in 1:51.4. The $55,000 estimated final is Aug. 2, Hambletonian Day.

Bee A Magician -- who has won 28 of 35 career races, finished second on four occasions, and earned $2.45 million -- was eligible to the John Cashman Jr. Memorial, but the mare’s connections decided against facing the boys. She raced against her male counterparts in the Hambletonian Maturity on July 5, finishing second to Your So Vain.

“I want to race her as easy as I can,” Norman said. “I’ll consider racing those horses again later in the year maybe, but not right now. You can’t be too tough on them. You see some of the other 4-year-olds that have come back and are not what they were. It’s a tough thing to do because most of them have laid it all on the line last year.”

As it is, racing against the mares is difficult enough.

“It’s a tough division; very solid,” Norman said, adding about her 1:51.1 win in the most recent Miss Versatility round, “It was a good race. She didn’t jog, it was a good race.”

GIFTED WAY IS THE RIGHT PRESENT FOR ALAGNA HEADING INTO HAUGHTON MEMORIAL


Trainer Tony Alagna hopes Rare Gift delivered a special present in the form of 2-year-old colt trotter Gifted Way.

Gifted Way, a son of stallion Cantab Hall out of the mare Rare Gift, was purchased for $170,000 at the 2013 Lexington Selected Sale. Gifted Way makes his third start Friday in the single elimination for the Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old male trotters at Meadowlands Racetrack.

The colt is owned by Brittany Farms, Joe Sbrocco, Little E LLC, and Deo Volente Farms. Gifted Way is part of a four-horse entry in the Haughton elim, along with Jimmy Takter-trained Special Action, The Bank, and Uncle Lasse. The group is 3-5 on the morning line.

Rounding out the horses in the elim, from which the top seven finishers advance to the $280,000 estimated final on Aug. 2, Hambletonian Day, are Ake Svanstedt’s Centurion ATM and Amicus, Ray Schnittker’s Broken Record, Erv Miller’s SS Poseidon, Nancy Johansson’s Cruzado Dela Noche, and Mark Harder’s True Blue Stride.

Three horses received byes to the final: Takter’s Canepa Hanover, Nik Drennan’s Guess Whos Back, and Jim Campbell’s Honor And Serve.

Gifted Way won his debut, a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars, on July 4 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. He went off stride at the start in his second race, which was won by Canepa Hanover, on July 18 at the Meadowlands.

“He’s a nice colt,” Alagna said. “When the gate left the other night, he just got off on the wrong foot and made a break, which he hadn’t done before. He trotted good after making the break, came out of the race fine, and trained back good [Tuesday]. I think we’re set for the elimination on Friday night.”

Gifted Way is Rare Gift’s fourth foal, and first by Cantab Hall, who was the sport’s leading trotting sire in 2012 and 2013. Rare Gift is a full sister to stakes-winner Stand Strong and a three-quarter-sister to 1996 Horse of the Year Continentalvictory and stakes-winner Victory Abroad.

“The family has been a little stagnant, but this was by far the best colt the mare had thrown,” Alagna said. “He’s very correct. He was very athletic in the paddock. He just had everything going for him.

“Cantab Hall has just been red hot the last couple years, so we thought we would take a shot. We’re glad we did. I think he was the right horse.”

Gifted Way is not the only horse in the Haughton elim with well-known relatives.

Uncle Lasse is a full brother to Shake It Cerry, the 2013 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old filly trotter and a top contender in the upcoming Hambletonian Oaks, and Broken Record is a half-brother to 2005 Hambletonian winner Vivid Photo. Special Action’s family includes 2006 Hambletonian winner Glidemaster and The Bank’s dam is millionaire Lantern Kronos.

Friday’s card also features two eliminations for the Merrie Annabelle Stakes for 2-year-old female trotters and the second round of the Ima Lula Series for 4-year-old female trotters.


USTA Communications

Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


On Edge


By Ken Weingartner


Bettor’s Edge is not the highest profile pacer in the Ron Burke Stable, but he is holding his own against the best in the sport. It’s something he has done pretty much throughout his million-dollar-earning career.

The 5-year-old gelding heads into Saturday’s $463,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older pacers at the Meadowlands off a second-place finish in the Ben Franklin Pace on June 28. He finished between stablemates Sweet Lou, who edged him by a neck, and Foiled Again.

Sweet Lou and Foiled Again also are entered in the Haughton, as well as Burke-trained Clear Vision. Sweet Lou, who has a five-race win streak, is the 8-5 morning line favorite. Bettor’s Edge is fourth choice at 6-1, behind Captaintreacherous (3-1) and State Treasurer (9-2).

Foiled Again, who with $6.31 million in career purses is the richest harness racing horse in North American history, starts from the outside in post No. 10 and is 12-1.

The Haughton and $776,000 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers will be shown live starting at 9 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s card also includes the $317,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial, $213,500 Delvin Miller Memorial, $212,150 Mistletoe Shalee, $178,450 Golden Girls, and a $40,000 leg of the Miss Versatility Series.

Bettor’s Edge, who joined the Burke Brigade in November 2013 after a successful stint with trainer Linda Toscano, has won six of 17 races this year, including three divisions of the spring Levy Series, and earned $285,340.

“We’re high on him,” said Mark Weaver, who owns Bettor’s Edge with Burke Racing, Mike Bruscemi, and M1 Stable. “In the Franklin, it looked like he was going to get by [Sweet] Lou and beat the best horses around. He’s solid. A lot of people that follow him really like him. His lines are better than they look. He’s been in against tough horses in tough spots.”

As a 3-year-old, Bettor’s Edge won six of 25 races, including the Monument Circle, and had on-the-board finishes in the Breeders Crown, Tattersalls Pace, Little Brown Jug, Cane Pace, and Progress Pace on his way to $573,797 in season’s earnings.

“We always liked the horse,” Weaver said, adding about Bettor’s Edge’s foaling year of 2009, “That year, [Sweet] Lou’s crop, I love those horses. I don’t think people realized how good they were. I think last year they started to realize, with Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance and some of the others and the way they raced in the aged pacing division.

“We’re trying to look at the immediate future as well as down the road. Foiled [Again] can’t last forever; [Sweet] Lou eventually will be in the breeding shed. We like to buy horses we think can help fill voids when they happen. We thought he could do that. So far it’s worked out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does some bigger and better things.”

If nothing else, Bettor’s Edge has proved to be a durable money-earner. When he starts in the Haughton it will give him at least one race in 14 of the last 15 months.

“A lot of these horses, you map out every start,” Weaver said. “With him, we’ve been kind of winging it. He’s had 38 starts since he’s had a real break. Believe me, he’s not getting one soon as well as he’s racing. At some point he’ll get the break he deserves and maybe he’ll come back even better next year.”

Following is the Haughton field in post order with listed drivers, trainers, and morning line odds: 1. Thinking Out Loud, John Campbell, Bob McIntosh, 8-1; 2. Captaintreacherous, Tim Tetrick, Tony Alagna, 3-1; 3. Sweet Lou, Ron Pierce, Ron Burke, 8-5; 4. State Treasurer, David Miller, Ian Moore, 9-2; 5. Captive Audience, David Miller, Corey Johnson, 30-1; 6. Bettor’s Edge, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 6-1; 7. Bolt The Duer, Mark MacDonald, Pete Foley, 12-1; 8. Sunshine Beach, Brian Sears, Mark Steacy, 20-1; 9. Clear Vision, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke, 15-1; 10. Foiled Again, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 12-1.



Harness Racing Communications/USTA


Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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Thursday, July 17, 2014


The Connections Behind Sebastian K


By Ken Weingartner

When harness racing trainer Ake Svanstedt announced he was leaving Sweden to compete in North America, the initial reaction of Michael Knutsson and Tristan Sjoberg, who had their star trotter Sebastian K in Svanstedt’s care, was disappointment.

As time passed, the brothers decided it was an opportunity. Rather than find a new trainer, they decided to send Sebastian K to the U.S. with Svanstedt. After watching Sebastian K win the first five starts of his North American campaign and trot the fastest mile in harness racing history, a 1:49 triumph in the Sun Invitational on June 28, they are happy they did.

Sebastian K puts his perfect 5-for-5 record on the line in Saturday’s C$603,000 Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk Racetrack. The 8-year-old horse will start from post No. 1 with Svanstedt driving and is the 2-5 favorite on the morning line.

Michael, 53, and Tristan, 43, race under the Knutsson Trotting Inc. stable banner. Their father, Bertil, who passed away in 2012, got the family started in harness racing some 50 years ago. Knutsson Trotting has 44 horses, counting racehorses, broodmares and foals. They have six horses in the U.S., including Sebastian K and the rare 2-year-old white pacing colt White Bliss. Four of the horses in the States are co-owned by Courant AB, including Peter Haughton Memorial hopeful Centurion ATM.

The brothers operate gaming company TCS John Huxley and Knutsson Holdings AB, with Michael living in Sweden and Tristan in Singapore. They recently took time to speak and correspond with Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner about their passion for racing and Sebastian K.

KW: What has the experience with Sebastian K been like so far?

MK: It’s been absolutely amazing. I’m not surprised with the speed, to be honest, but I’m surprised that he got into it so quickly; that he’s been acclimatized so quickly. We knew about his capacity. Of course, 1:49 was absolutely a blast. But we knew he would have a good shot at the old record. It was a bit of a gamble for us to move him from a good environment in Sweden where there is good money and good races, but we’re adventurous. We did the right thing and we’re enjoying the moment.

KW: Why did you decide to send Sebastian K to the States?

TS: For the adventure! And to break the world record. We knew he was fast enough to compete against the best in North America and win races, but the real carrot was breaking the world record. His best time in Sweden was 1:51 flat and that was on a five-eighths-mile track that is medium fast. We believed he could go sub-1:50 on a fast mile track so after a lot of soul-searching we decided to ship him to the States with Ake with the singular aim to break the world record.

KW: Was it a tough decision?

MK: That was a tough decision. It took us months. Automatically, when Ake Svanstedt declared he would move to the U.S., we thought ‘Oh no, oh no,’ who will train [Sebastian K]. We did not have any thoughts whatsoever to move him outside the Nordic countries because he was doing so well. But then he did a very good race during the summer and we started to speculate: How fast is he? That’s what triggered the question whether to move him to the U.S. or not. Not to even try would have been cowardly. So we decided to go for it and we sure did make the right decision. We’re very happy about it.

KW: Was it an emotional decision?

MK: It was very tough emotionally. Firstly, he’s done very well in the North European races. And also not to be able to go to him anytime we want, not to see him as often and go to every race, that was emotionally very tough.

KW: Did you expect to see Sebastian K do so well so quickly?

TS: Yes and no. I did expect him to win races early on, but not in the effortless way he has done. He has really taken well to the U.S. climate and harness racing in general. He was always at his best in Sweden racing at sprint distance (one mile) and on fast tracks in the summer. So the racing conditions in the U.S. and Canada really suits him.

KW: What do you think about the Maple Leaf Trot?

TS: Apart from the Hambletonian, it is the most recognized North American harness race in Europe. We often see it as the “over there” equivalent of Sweden’s Elitloppet. It is steeped in tradition, and after breaking the world record this is the race we really want to win. The younger horses do not have the same cachet here as they do [in North America]. We are drawn to the older horses, the personalities. We like personalities, even with our horses.

MK: We have big, big hopes for him. So far everything looks good. He has a good history with five straight wins, so we truly hope he can pull it off.

KW: How did you get started in harness racing?

TS: It was the passion of our late father, Bertil, and we are carrying on his legacy. The success we are experiencing with Sebastian K is down to our father’s hard work and investment over 30 years in harness racing. He started with trotters and he had immediate success with a stakes-equivalent winner in Sweden called Private Property, sired by The Prophet. From there, the barn grew every year as our father was a buyer of horses and not a seller.

KW: Michael, you were with your father when Sebastian K won his first classic race [the Group I King’s Trophy in Sweden] at the age of 4. What was that like?

MK: That was fantastic. Deep inside, we knew there was something going with him, but he had never proven himself in a big race. That was the first big race he won and it was in our hometown of Gothenburg. It was an amazing feeling. It also was [validation] that he was a good horse. Only a few months later he was second in the European Derby for 4-year-olds. That in itself was amazing, too, to be the second best in Europe at that time.

KW: What was it like to see Sebastian K win in 1:49?

TS: One of the highlights of my life, save for the birth of my daughter. It was 9 a.m. in Singapore and my hand was trembling. When I calmed down I went to my wine fridge to pull out a bottle of champagne, but I realized that it was not going to be strong enough so I grabbed a bottle of 24-year old rum from Guyana instead. It was a good breakfast! My brother Michael was in Sweden and it was 3 a.m. there and we spoke for over half an hour on the phone. He told me later that he was so jacked up that he could not go to bed until 6 a.m.! It was a wonderful day for our family and our thoughts were with our father. It was very emotional.

KW: What is Sebastian K’s schedule for the rest of the year?

TS: If he feels good after the Maple Leaf Trot we will enter him for the Cashman Memorial. After that he gets a well-earned break. The next race would tentatively be the Crawford Farms Trot at Vernon Downs, followed by Centaur Trotting Classic at Hoosier Park and Allerage at The Red Mile. He is also staked to the American-National and Dayton Derby Trot, but we have to make a decision closer to the dates. Of course, the season finale is the TVG Championship at the end of November at the Meadowlands.

KW: What do you plan to do with Sebastian K after this year?

TS: That is the million-dollar question. Our preference would be to combine stud duties with racing, which is the norm in Europe. I know Wishing Stone is doing just that this year in the States so it can be done. We are investigating that possibility and I am already talking to one farm about that option. But no decision has been taken yet. Sebastian K acted as a stud for some of our broodmares and he has sired six yearlings. One of them, a filly, will go under the hammer at Sweden’s most prestigious yearling auction, Kolgjini Sales, in September. The dam won close to U.S.$200,000. It will be very interesting to see what price she fetches.

US Trotting Assn. Communications

Written by John Pricci of Harness Racing Update

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