Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sebastian K Sets Stakes Record in The Cutler

Swedish champion Sebastian K added to his lore with another convincing win, this one the $175,000 Arthur J. Cutler Memorial Final at The Meadowlands Saturday night in 1:50.2.

The Cutler was the first major test of the season for the Free For All trotters, promising a battle royale between last week’s elimination winners Sebastian K and Market Share and record speed possibilities that went awry when Market Share made an uncharacteristic break in the first turn.

As the race began Modern Family was put into play early by David Miller, using his keen gate speed to clear to the front before the turn with Sebastian K protecting the rail for Ake Svanstedt and securing the pocket through the 27.1 opener.

With Market Share out of contention, there was little movement as the field passed the half in :55.2. Approaching the final bend Sebastian K was flushed out trotting alongside Modern Family and they raced as a team past the 1:22.4 three quarters, by mid-stretch he was edging by that rival on his way to a length and a half win in a stakes record 1:50.2.

Modern Family held well to be second while Sevruga followed up close throughout and was third. Market Share’s break seemed to have his disappointed camp puzzled post-race.

The winner is a majestic specimen who again raced sans shoes as he had done in his record elimination win a week ago. He is raced by Swedish interests, trained by his driver Ake Svanstedt and owned by Knutsson Trotting.

“He’s just awesome, added owner Michael Knutsson. “ It’s fantastic – and our first time here at The Meadowlands and it starts like this. It’s absolutely amazing.

“We talked (after the 1:50.1 elimination win) and we all could see, I think, that he had more in him. He had a shot at it (the world record) today. It didn’t work out, but the time today is tremendous also. I mean fantastic.

“I’m not sure he has actually (ever been better). I think he’s in superb form right now.”

Immediate plans for the winner include a few weeks off before returning for a leg of the TVG Free For All series on June 13.

Yannick Gingras was the driving star of the night, winning 7 of the 14 races contested, including the $30,000 Free For All Handicap Pace with Allstar Legend in a lifetime best effort of 1:48 for Ron Burke and owners Brittany Farms and John Cherveny.

Total Handle on the 14-race program was $3,399,248, a 10-percent increase over the previous year. Additionally, on-track handle yielded a 26-percent increase.

Written by Darin Zoccali of Harness Racing Update

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sebastian K World Record at The Meadowlands

There really is nothing quite like the Championship Meet here at The Meadowlands when the top horses start to show up for the stakes and tonight’s card was the stage for some of harness racing best.

Swedish champion Sebastian K made his debut on American soil in the $40,000 Arthur Cutler Memorial eliminations for his expatriate trainer/driver Ake Svanstedt tonight at The Meadowlands and the result was a devastating world and track record 1:50.1.

The mile also equaled the fastest trotting mile ever on the mile track and was accomplished with remarkable ease.

Prepped with a single qualifier after being away from racing for eight months, Sebastian K got away third for Svanstedt through the early fractions of 26.4 and 55.1 then was edged out to challenge early leader Modern Family around the final turn.

As they straightened up, Sebastian K forged past that one and moved clear with nary a nudge from his driver to reduce the former record of 1:51- set by Misterizi back in 2008.

Modern Family held well for the place while Intimidate actually closed into that mile nicely for third. Archangel and DW’s NY Yank finished fourth and fifth respectively to advance to next week’s $175,000 final.

Ake Svanstedt left his native Sweden to begin operations in the US and brought his stable star along to take on the best western trotting has to offer. He has stated his belief that Sebastian K can be the first trotter to break the 1:50 barrier on the mile track and tonight’s effort indicate that he may very well be right. The owners are known as Knutsson Trotting, Inc. using a Vero Beach, FL address.

Sebastian K projects an imposing presence on the racetrack with a very pure gait. So pure, in fact, that assistant trainer Bernie Noren tweeted post-race that he raced without shoes in the record effort.

Market Share won the second elimination in a career best equaling and what a few hours earlier would have been a world and track record 1:50.3. Settled in fourth early by Tim Tetrick, Market Share wound up third over, fanning off the cover of Arch Madness and edging past that rival in the shadow of the wire to win by a length. It was the first start of Market Share’s season after a pair of useful qualifiers.

Undercover Strike rallied from well back to take third with Sevruga and Possessed Fashion occupying the other two positions in next week’s final.

Trainer Linda Toscano and owners Richard Gutnick, TLP Stable and Bill Augustine must now grapple with the decision of whether to send their stable star to Sweden for the Elitlopp or remain home for next week’s $175,000 Cutler final and beyond. The decision is imminent.

Also on the card was the first TVG Free For All Championship Open Pace of the season for a purse of $50,000 which drew a strong ten horse field of fast horses.

The fastest on this night was clearly Sweet Lou who easily defeated this accomplished group by open lengths in an eased-up 1:48.3.

Ron Pierce had the call for trainer Ronnie Burke and noted in a post-race interview that it was his first time behind the winner of over $2 million, they paired up very nicely. After settling in behind Bolt The Duer through the 26.2 opener,

Pierce tipped Sweet Lou back around to the front and that, for all intents and purposes, was that. He widened to a clear lead into the stretch and the 26 flat final quarter made him a three plus length winner. Stable mate Foiled Again was second after an overland, uncovered trip which he endured nobly to save the place and Bolt The Duer held for third.

Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi, Larry Carr and Phil Collura share ownership of the winner.

On the driving front, Tim Tetrick won four races on the night, while Yannick Gingras took home three.

Racing resumes on Friday, with first post time at 7:15 P.M. That card features the New Jersey Sire Stakes for the three year old colt and filly trotters. The Saturday program centers around the $175,000 Arthur Cutler Memorial Final and Roosevelt Raceway legacy night.

Written by Darin Zoccali of Harness Racing Update

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Friday, May 09, 2014

The Secret to Brian Sears’ Success? Perhaps It’s “The Manager”

Driver Brian Sears is so good that it sometimes seems like he has a secret weapon, something beyond ability that separates him from the rest. And maybe he does.

If you've been to Yonkers lately you've seen him. You couldn't possibly not. Dressed in white from head to toe, he darts and dashes across the apron, does his dance and, most all, helps will his hero Brian Sears to the wire. His name is John Cutrone, but you know him as "The Manager."

His role is to help Sears win, and he has no doubt that he is playing at least some part in the success of the top driver at Yonkers Raceway.

"Can someone make someone who is great even greater?" asks The Manager. "Can you take something that is perfect and make it even better? Is there a force that is unseen to mankind? Is there something that flows through the air between two minds that have a direct angle? The Manager believes so. The Manager has perfected the power of suggestion that flows through the air unseen and the power of influence and learned how to master it."

Yes, he's serious. Completely.

"I go with the power of influence and the power of suggestion," The Manager said. "I give him a boost before the race when I yell. I give him a little more energy."

Cutrone is 52, unemployed and lives in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He said he has been attending the harness races for more than 20 years but until he became "The Manager" he was just another face in the crowd at the Meadowlands, Yonkers and his local OTB branch.

That all changed on a night at the Meadowlands in 2012 when he saw that Sears was driving a horse named Get Packin. He liked Sears' nickname and when Get Packin came on the track he called out to him.

"I saw the White Knight and I started going crazy on the apron, calling out ‘White Knight, White Knight,’" he said. "That horse, Get Packin, won and he started winning and winning and I thought we have a good thing here."

Over time Cutrone seemed to conclude that the nickname the "White Knight" didn't do Sears justice. Now, he mainly refers to him as the "King" or the "King of the Universe."

When Sears decided to drive full time at Yonkers in 2013 The Manager took things to the next level. He was determined to never miss any of his drives there and started to dress in all white. He is very proud of the fact that since 2013 he has been at Yonkers for all but three of Sears' wins.

That has taken some doing. Cutrone does not drive and must rely on public transportation to get to the track. With Yonkers racing at night, it is particularly hard for him to get home and he says he usually doesn't arrive back at his door until 3:15 am. This was among the worst winters in New York history, but the freezing cold didn't faze The Manager.

"One night I left Sheepshead Bay and it was 2 degrees, but I said if the King is out there doing what he has to do then The Manager has to be by his side," he said. "I wouldn't do that to the King, make him come out in the cold like that and leave him flat ."

Before every race that Sears drives in The Manager takes his spot along the apron. He prances back and forth while the gate gets rolling and when the field comes by he struts back and forth nervously. He cannot stand still. As the field comes by the first time he'll call out to Sears. During Tuesday's second race, which would be won by Sears, he yelled out "You've got to work hard to beat the King. The King is always coming."

As the field heads into the stretch for the second time he chases the field down the stretch at a dead sprint, hoping it ends in the winner's for both him and his idol. Often, The Manager will appear in the winner's circle photos along with Sears.

"We are the best driver-fan team in the history of harness racing," Cutrone said.

For his part, Sears has been a good sport about the whole thing.

"He's always been very respectful to me," he said. "He has a good attitude, that's for sure."

Cutrone seems to understand that there are lines that cannot be crossed. He says he has no personal relationship with Sears and has never made any attempt to interact with him beyond his rituals on the apron.

"When I see him, it's just like ‘hi, how ya doing,'" Cutrone said. "Everything is good. No big talk. There's just some nods, knowing that we're both there for each other. That's how it works and I don't want to break that. I don't want it to get too personal. I've never once went around to where the drivers park. I don't go back to the paddock. People say why don't you go meet him. No, I don't want to do that. I don't want to get to know him personally. If I do it might become something different."

The Manager said some aren't enamored with his routines.

"Most of the fans are good," he said. "I have some mockers but I can deal with them."

He doesn't bet: "What I am doing doesn't have anything to do with betting. If he wins, I win, no matter what," he said.

He does follow Sears to the Meadowlands when he drives there but isn't able to get to any other tracks because he doesn't drive.

In races in which Sears isn't driving he will not root for anyone else and says he has turned down offers from trainers to use his powers to help their horses, ones not driven by Sears, win.

"A trainer came up to me at the Meadowlands and said, "Please Manager, can you root for my horse next race?' I said I am sorry I cannot do that. He said if I win the next race I want you to come to winner's circle and I said I cannot do that and they understood that."

He is now on Twitter, but it’s not him but a “Manager” wannabe. Cutrone does not have a computer.

Sears won again in Tuesday's fourth, and in the fifth, eighth and twelfth, five winners in all. The last race ended at about 11:10 and The Manager began the trip back to Brooklyn. It was a long night and he would not get home for nearly four hours. But it had been worth it. It was a good night for Sears. It was a better one for "The Manager."

To watch video of The Manager in action click here

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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