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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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cinderalla He’s Watching Equals World Record in Meadowlands Pace

By Mike Farrell

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J -- He's Watching rallied to win the $776,000 Meadowlands Pace in record-equaling time on Saturday night at Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment.

It was the exclamation point in the storybook saga of a $3,000 yearling purchase who scaled the heights of the sport with The Pace victory.

The time was a dazzling 1:46 4/5, tying the fastest clocking in the history of harness racing. He joins Somebeachsomewhere, Holborn Hanover and Warawee Needy in that exclusive speed club.

Tim Tetrick was in the sulky for his fourth Pace victory in only eight drives.

“It’s just an honor to compete in these races,” Tetrick said. “He’s a great horse, and I was lucky to pick up the drive in a big race like this.”

He's Watching beat Always B Miki by 2 1-2 lengths, his 11th victory in 14 starts.

Racing second over while tracking North America Cup winner JK Endofanera, He’s Watching shifted into high gear in the lane, kicking home with a 25 3/5 second final quarter.

“I couldn’t ask for a better trip,” Tetrick said. “My horse really exploded, and he paced all the way to the wire.

He's Watching, trained by David Menary who made his Pace debut, paid $6.20, $3.80 and $3.40.

“I was hoping we’d get a second-over trip behind JK Endofanera,” Menary said. “He’s versatile. He likes it on the front and when horses come at him, he picks up the bit. He can explode off the helmet, too.”

Always B Miki, caught three wide all the way around, dug in gamely to get second, returning $5.80 and $4.60. Tellitlikeitis paid $8.20 to show.

He’s Watching is owned by Menary Racing, Brad Gray, Michael Guerriero and the Muscara Racing Trust.

The Pace, contested before 10,786 on a warm night, was main event of a stakes-filled evening.

Stanley Dancer Memorial

Trainer Jimmy Takter holds all the cards heading into the $1.2 million Hambletonian here on Aug. 2, especially after his trio of talented colts swept the first three positions in the $317,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old trotters.

Father Patrick was first to the wire, his 16th win in 17 starts for the Father Patrick Stable. He will undoubtedly be the solid favorite in the Hambletonian.

Yannick Gingras was at the lines for the 1:51 3/5 victory. Father Patrick, starting from post 9, took charge down the backstretch and held off Nuncio by three quarters of a length with Trixton third.

“He can race from the back and he’s probably a little bit better following horses,” Gingras said. “With the 9-hole in a 12-horse field, the last thing I wanted to do was get caught behind traffic.”

Given the lead, Father Patrick remained firmly in command.

“There was no excuse for anybody,” Gingras said. “Father Patrick beat them straight up.”

Father Patrick paid $2.80 to win.

The Takter dominance could limit the number of Hambletonian challengers. If there are 13 or fewer entrants, the field will go in one dash without preliminary heats.

“This was basically the Hambletonian,” Takter said. “I mean, who is coming?”

Takter struck again with Shake It Cerry in the $213,500 Del Miller Memorial, the companion event for 3-year-old trotting fillies and the prep for the Hambletonian Oaks.

Shake It Cerry and driver Ron Pierce won by 1-1/4 lengths over Heaven’s Door in 1:53. Designed To Be was third.

Shake It Cerry won for the fifth time in six starts this year and pushed her career earnings to more than $1 million. She has banked $217,338 this season for Solveig’s Racing Partners.

Shake It Cerry led from start to finish, hitting the halfway point in :57.4.

“When I saw we were getting our way going to the half, I figured I better try to get away from Designed To Be so we stepped on the gas the last half,” Pierce said.

“I think she’s coming into the Hambletonian Oaks just perfect. Today she got a good workout, so I would say she’s coming into the Oaks in real good shape.”

Shake It Cerry paid $9.60 to win.

Sweet Lou rocketed home in 1:47 1-5 in the $463,300 William Haughton Memorial, the sixth straight win for 5-year-old.

He had an ideal trip, perched second-over as Captaintreacherous and Thinking Out Loud slugged it out.

Ron Pierce turned Sweet Lou loose in the lane and he roared home to his 28th win in 64 starts, beating Bettor’s Edge by 1 1-4 lengths.

The first two finishers were trained by Ron Burke.

“Ronnie had been using the same move every week where he brushes up the backside and bottoms them out,” Burke said. “I was wondering what would happen if we couldn’t do that. What I liked best was at the wire he was just starting to stretch out. I was very happy with him and Bettor’s Edge.

Sweet Lou, owned by Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi, Larry Karr and Phil Collura paid $4 to win.

Captaintreacherous, last year’s Meadowlands Pace winner, was third.

Sandbetweenurtoes gutted out a neck victory over Weeper in the $212,150 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old pacing fillies to extend her season-long unbeaten streak.

Brett Miller was at the lines for trainer Larry Remmen and owner Bradley Grant as Sandbetweenurtoes improved to 6 for 6 in 2014.

“She’s something else, for a filly who had only one start as a 2-year-old,” Miller said.

The time was 1:49 3/5. Sandbetweenurtoes paid $5.40 to win.

Rocklamation emerged from the pack in deep stretch to take the $183,450 Golden Girls Free-For-All for pacing mares in a career-best and stakes record 1:48 3/5.

The 6-year-old improved to 21 for 89 as she closes in on $2 million in career earnings. Gingras was in the sulky for his third stakes win of the night. Burke trains for the Our Horse Cents Stable, Stable 45 and J & T Silva Stables.

“My mare’s a hard knocker,” Gingras said. “She’s getting up there in age, but she’s such a sweetheart.”

Rocklamation beat Drop The Ball by three quarters of a length with Jerseylicious third. She paid $26.80 for the upset victory.

Bee A Magician, the 2013 Horse of the Year, got her first win of the year by capturing the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series by a neck over Charmed Life in 1:51 1/5. D’Orsay was third.

Bee A Magician and driver Brian Sears found a second-over trip behind D’Orsay, taking the front in mid-stretch and holding off a fast-closing Charmed Life.

Bee A Magician, who was 17-for-17 last season, had three second-place finishes among four starts prior to the Miss Versatility. She has won 28 of 35 career races for owners Mel Hartmann, Herb Liverman, and David McDuffee, and trainer Nifty Norman.

She paid $4 to win.

New Jersey Sires Stakes

Guess Whos Back fired off cover while Mission Brief exploded with a gate-to-wire stakes record performance in the trots.

Mission Brief, who paid $2.60 to win, broke her own stakes record of 1:55.1, with a 1:53.3 mile besting a field of six trotting fillies. The winning margin was an eye-opening 13 1-4 lengths.

The outcome was never in doubt as Gingras guided the Ron Burke trainee to her second win in three starts.

With the daughter of Muscle Hill, out of the Breeders Crown winner Southwind Serena, racing on an uncontested lead, the battle was for second and Dynamite Dame edged out Rules of the Road.

She is owned by Burke Racing Stable, Our Horse Cents Stables, J&T Silva Stables and Weaver Bruscemi.

Guess Whos Back tipped five-wide in the stretch and pulled away to a one-length victory in the event for trotting colts and geldings.

Guess Whos Back, driven by Brian Sears paid $6.40 to win. Canepa Hanover was second with 99-1 Mountain Top a length and three-quarters in third/

The 1:56.1 mile was a lifetime best for Guess Whos Back, trained by Nikolas Drennan and racing for Joseph Davino and Brad Shackman.

More Jersey Sires Stakes

A pair of Western Ideal youngsters, Artspeak and Stacia Hanover, scored in the $100,000 finals of the New Jersey Sire Stakes for two-year-old pacers on Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Meadowlands.

Artspeak [$3.40, $2.80, $2.40], a son of Western Ideal, captured the New Jersey Sire Stakes for pacing colts and geldings in 1:52.3, finishing a length and three-quarters ahead of Hurrikane Ali, by Rocknroll Hanover.

Dealt A Winner by Cam’s Card Shark was an early breaker who reconnected with the field and got up for third by two and a half lengths.

Artspeak, driven by Scott Zeron and trained by Tony Alagna, was sent off as the 3-5 favorite and did not disappoint, picking up his second win in two career starts. A $100,000 Lexington Selected Sale purchase, he races for Brittany Farms, Marvin Katz, Joe Sbrocco and the In The Gym Partners.

In the 13th and final race of the night, Stacia Hanover took command early and held the lead at every call, extending her unbeaten streak to three with a career best 1:53.4 mile.

Scott Zeron guided the Western Ideal filly, who is trained by Steve Elliott and races for Ohioans David Van Dusen and Michael Ciamaglio, who purchased her for $35,000 at the Harrisburg Sale.

Stacia Hanover returned $3.40, $2.40, $2.10, finishing a length and a quarter ahead of Cashaway, who was a half length ahead of Ideal Nuggets. All three are by Western Ideal.

Total handle for the 13-race program was $4,288,237, compared to the $4,311,546 wagered on the 14-race card in 2013. By comparison, handle through 13 races last year was $4,096,588.

Written by Darin Zoccali of Harness Racing Update

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