By Ken Weingartner — Goran Antonsen learned a lot during his first trip to the $1 million Yonkers International Trot last year, and following the draw for this year’s race, he wished he didn’t need to recall some of the knowledge he gained.
“I learned that post positions seven and eight are really, really bad,” Antonsen said with a wry laugh after his Lionel, the runner-up to Cruzado Dela Noche in last year’s International Trot, received post eight for Saturday’s 41st renewal of the invitational for older trotters at Empire City Casino’s Yonkers Raceway.
Lionel is 8-1 on the morning line for the International Trot, which brings a 10-horse field representing nine nations to Yonkers Raceway. Atlanta, one of two U.S. representatives, is the 3-1 favorite from post three.
Antonsen owns, trains and drives Lionel, a 9-year-old stallion who represents Norway. Last year, Lionel and Antonsen started from the second tier’s post nine and raced in the outer flow for much of the mile.
In fact, Lionel was first over from the half-mile point to the final turn, where he took the lead from Marion Marauder but was unable to hold off Cruzado Dela Noche, losing by a head.
“It was a great experience,” Antonsen said. “The driving culture here is very much different from home. I feel the last experience is important, especially now when we have post position eight, because when you have a bad (post position) you are so dependent on what the others do.
“Even though we drew number eight we are still optimistic. But, of course, it is more difficult.”
Lionel has won 25 of 82 career races and just shy of $2 million. His victories include a handful of Group 1 events overseas, including the 2017 Olympiatravet (Olympic Trot).
Following last year’s International Trot, Lionel returned to action in Paris, but was not in best form. He got time to freshen up and Antonsen said the horse is entering this year’s International in good shape.
“When he was finished (in Paris) he was very tired,” Antonsen said. “But he’s been very good since July, when he started to find his top form. Now, he should be as good as last year.”
Despite Lionel’s starting spot Saturday, Antonsen is enjoying his return trip to New York.
“But,” he said with a grin, “it would be even more fun if we had (post) two.”
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The connections of Denmark’s Slide So Easy, also a returnee from last year’s International Trot, were on the other end of the spectrum when it came to the draw for Saturday’s race.
Slide So Easy got post No. 1, which caused his table of supporters to erupt in cheers when it was announced at Tuesday’s luncheon in Empire City Casino’s Good Time Room.
“It couldn’t be better, so we’re very happy,” said Thomas Clemmensen, who owns the 10-year-old gelding with Soren Christensen.
Slide So Easy arrived in the U.S. earlier than his European counterparts and stabled at Ake Svanstedt’s Legend Farm in central New Jersey. Svanstedt will drive Slide So Easy for trainer Flemming Jensen in Saturday’s race.
The horse has enjoyed a strong campaign overseas, winning seven of 11 races this year and finishing worse than second only once. His victories include a second consecutive Danmark Mesterskab (Denmark Championship).
For his career, the son of North American stakes-winning stallion Quite Easy has won 39 of 95 starts and $405,585.
“I think he is a little bit better this year, so hopefully we can have a good race and come out and win,” Clemmensen said. “He can open very fast, so if he wants, he can take the lead. I hope that Ake will take position second or third inside and come out at the end of the race.”
Asked if that would be his instructions to Svanstedt, Clemmensen responded with a laugh.
“I don’t do that,” he said. “I think Ake knows (what to do).”
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A horse representing Germany has never won the International Trot. Norton Commander will try to become the first on Saturday.
Owned by Ulrich Mommert, the 5-year-old stallion is trained and driven by Conni Lugauer. He has won three of seven races this year and 12 of 24 lifetime, good for $146,519. He will start the International Trot from post 10.
In August, Norton Commander finished third in the Group 1 Jubileumspokalen (Jubilee Cup).
“We’re very happy with him,” caretaker Nick Elving said. “He always gives 110 percent in every race he does. We actually wanted (post) 10, to be an outsider.”
Several weeks ago, Lugauer was asked by writer Brandon Valvo what it would mean to win the International Trot.
“I’m always thinking about victories, but I didn’t think about victory in the International Trot,” he replied. “The question is too big. I don’t know.”
Racing begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Yonkers Raceway. The International Trot is race seven with a 3 p.m. (EDT) approximate post time. The card also includes the $250,000 Harry Harvey Trot (race eight) and the $250,000 Dan Rooney Pace (race 11).
Following is the field in post-position order for the $1 million Yonkers International Trot.
1-Slide So Easy-Ake Svanstedt-Flemming Jensen-10/1
2-Bahia Quesnot-Junior Guelpa-Junior Guelpa-5/1
3-Atlanta-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke-3/1
4-Uza Josselyn-Erik Adielsson-Rene Aebischer-5/1
5-Zacon Gio-Roberto Vecchione-Holger Ehlert-8/1
6-Marion Marauder-Scott Zeron-Paula Wellwood-6/1
7-Cruzado Dela Noche-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander-8/1
8-Lionel-Goran Antonsen-Goran Antonsen-8/1
*9-Guardian Angel AS-Tim Tetrick-Anette Lorentzon-4/1
*10-Norton Commander-Conni Lugauer-Conni Lugauer-15/1
*Guardian Angel AS and Norton Commander start from the second tier.