By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Jiggy Jog S and driver Dexter Dunn will not be in the front row when Saturday’s $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot starts, but, of course, the only time being in front will truly matter to Dunn and the mare’s connections is when the race ends.
The lone female starter in Saturday’s 10-horse event, Jiggy Jog S will leave from post nine in the second level behind eight rivals on the starting gate. Dunn, who is making his first International Trot appearance, will drive the mare for trainer Ake Svanstedt — who won the race in 2016 with Resolve — and owner Jorgen Sparredal Inc.
Nine editions of the International Trot have passed since Peace Corps, in 1991, became the most recent female to win the race. Jiggy Jog S, a 4-year-old mare whose victories this season include the Graduate Series final over male rivals and the Six Pack Mares Open, is 8-1 on the morning line.
France’s Etonnant, who made a break in last year’s International Trot and finished eighth, drew post two and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s race, which will be contested at 1-1/4 miles around Yonkers’ half-mile oval.
It’s Academic, who with Venerate will represent the U.S., starts from post three. It’s Academic finished third in last year’s International Trot and is the 7-2 second choice. Italy’s Vivid Wise As, a 9-year-old stallion who has earned more than $3 million lifetime, will leave from post one and is 4-1.
“I’m sort of happy with the draw,” Dunn said. “You always like to be on the gate, but she’s following a good horse, so that helps. It’s always a little bit of guessing and a little bit of luck when you’re in the second tier, especially with a horse outside of you (Venerate in post 10) but I would probably rather be there than in the eight-hole.
“It’s not a simple race to piece together what’s going to happen and what the result is going to be. It’s a good field, a strong field. A lot can happen, especially with the extra distance around a half-mile track. It’ll be interesting.”
Dunn is familiar with many of the horses in the race, including several of the overseas arrivals. He drove against Etonnant and Vivid Wise As in May’s Elitloppet in Sweden, and has watched Australia’s Aldebaran Zeus.
“It’s definitely exciting to be in it, for sure,” Dunn said about his International Trot debut. “As a driver, you always want to be in the biggest races when they come around. I’ve been there a couple times and seen the race, but it will be good to compete in it for the first time. I’m very grateful.”
Jiggy Jog S, a daughter of Walner-Hot Mess Hanover, has hit the board in 25 of 30 career races, winning 14 and earning $1.49 million. Her career victories include last year’s Breeders Crown for 3-year-old filly trotters, Kentucky Filly Futurity, and NY NY Mile (which she won in 1:54 at Yonkers).
This season, Jiggy Jog S won her first four races before finishing second to M-M’s Dream in both the Hambletonian Maturity — by a neck at 1-1/8 miles at The Meadowlands — and Steele Memorial, also at the Big M.
“I’m happy with her; she’s going great guns this year,” Dunn said. “I know she got run down at a mile and an eighth at The Meadowlands, but she wasn’t quite right that night, so I sort of disregard that. With the draw, I’m a little bit happier with having the extra distance in the race. I’m not going to have to be covering too much extra ground, especially in that first lap or so by the looks of it.
“I think she can definitely compete, especially if she gets a nice enough trip. You’ve got to be in it to win it, so she’s got a chance. Luck is going to have to play a bit of a part on our side with the draw, but that’s OK. You always need luck in any race, no matter what.”
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Ake Svanstedt is not the only trainer with a chance to pick up a second victory in the International Trot. Marcus Melander won the 2018 edition of the race with 30-1 longshot Cruzado Dela Noche, who was driven by Brian Sears. Melander and Sears return to the race this year with Venerate.
Cruzado Dela Noche’s triumph was part of a memorable season for the then 26-year-old Melander, who had opened his stable at the end of 2014. He won four top Grand Circuit stakes that year — with four different horses: Cruzado Dela Noche in the International, Gimpanzee in a $600,000 Breeders Crown, Crazy Wow in the $501,270 Maple Leaf Trot, and Green Manalishi S in the $308,000 Wellwood Memorial.
“It was a breakout year for me, and (the International) was the biggest win,” said Melander, who received the Rising Star Award at the completion of the campaign and in 2019 was Trainer of the Year. “It was fun.”
Cruzado Dela Noche started the International Trot from post six and raced in the outer flow the entire way. Sears eventually managed to get second-over position behind Lionel, where he remained until tipping three-wide for the last quarter-mile and beating Lionel by a head.
“Before the race, we probably were thinking about picking up a check,” Melander said. “There were some good horses in there. But Brian worked out a great trip, the horse was good that day, and he got up for the win. It was very exciting.”
On Saturday, Venerate will start the International Trot from post 10 and is 12-1 on the morning line. The 5-year-old stallion, a son of Love You-Peaceful Kemp, won the Cutler Memorial in his 2023 debut before finishing second to It’s Academic in both the Crawford Farms Open and Cashman Memorial (by a nose).
He was second in the stretch of last week’s Maple Leaf Trot, but made a break and was fourth-placed-sixth.
“I don’t really know why he made that break,” Melander said. “We haven’t found anything on him. He looked good before the break.
“Obviously, (post 10) is not a great number, but it could have been the eight-hole. He still can get a good position. We’ll see. It’s a great field. I think the horse is good enough to be in there, and I think he can handle the distance well. I think he’ll be all right if he can find the right position in the race. Hopefully, Brian can get him in a manageable spot.”
Just like he did in the International Trot five years ago.
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Fashion Frenzie has been a star in Canada, where he’s a two-time O’Brien Award-recipient and won 22 of 35 career races. Now, he will go international in the International Trot. The 5-year-old son of Archangel-Striking Fashion will compete for the first time outside of his homeland in Saturday’s race.
Trained by Richard Moreau, Canada’s 10-time Trainer of the Year, Fashion Frenzie was sent to New Jersey-based conditioner Nancy Takter, a past U.S. Trainer of the Year honoree and the 2023 Hambletonian winner, to prepare for the International Trot. He will start Saturday from post four with driver Louis-Philippe Roy and is 20-1 on the morning line.
“He’s been racing pretty good,” said Roy, a two-time Driver of the Year in Canada. “He doesn’t race that often, but so far, everything he’s had to do, he’s done it well. When he goes against Grand Circuit horses, he’s been picking up checks. He might need a little step up to beat them, but you don’t know if on the half-mile track it will be a different game.”
Fashion Frenzie, who has earned more than $1 million in Canadian purses, is a two-time Ontario Sire Stakes champion and also counts the 2021 Goodtimes Stakes among his career victories. This past August, he won the Earl Rowe Memorial at five-eighths-mile Georgian Downs for the second straight year. He heads to the International Trot off a fifth-placed-fourth finish in the Maple Leaf Trot.
“It’s hard to tell what will happen on the half-mile (track) with the horses coming from different countries and different types of racing, but some of the best ones drew the inside,” Roy said about the International. “I think he will like the extra distance, but he’s not the only one that will. He doesn’t really get tired, but there are other great trotters in there that don’t seem to get tired either.”
Roy will be participating in the International Trot for the first time.
“It’s exciting. We’re representing Canada. And it’s one of my friend’s horses, so it makes it even more exciting,” he said.
The MGM Yonkers International Trot will go as race seven on the 11-race program, which also includes the $250,000 Bob Miecuna Invitational Trot and $250,000 Aria Invitational Pace, as well as eight New York Sire Stakes championships.
Racing begins at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Yonkers. For free Yonkers programs, visit the Standardbred Owners Association of New York website here.
Following is the International Trot field with morning-line odds, driver/trainer, and country:
1-Vivid Wise As IT (Matthieu Abrivard/Alessandro Gocciadoro), 4-1, Italy
2-Etonnant FR (Anthony Barrier/Richard Westerink), 3-1, France
3-It’s Academic (David Miller/Ron Burke), 7-2, United States
4-Fashion Frenzie (Louis-Philippe Roy/Nancy Takter), 20-1, Canada
5-Hierro Boko S (Hannu Korpi drives and trains), 8-1, Finland
6-Get A Wish DK (Bo Westergaard drives and trains), 15-1, Denmark
7-Aldebaran Zeus A (Chris Alford/Brent Lilley), 15-1, Australia
8-Bengurion Jet IT (Alessandro Gocciadoro drives and trains), 15-1, Italy
9-Jiggy Jog S (Dexter Dunn/Åke Svanstedt), 8-1, Sweden
10-Venerate (Brian Sears/Marcus Melander), 12-1, United States