By KEN WEINGARTNER — Brandon Bates has a horse in the Breeders Crown for the first time, and it’s Priceless.
Priceless, who last week won an Indiana Sire Stakes championship for her sixth victory of the season, was among the 21 horses entered in Friday’s (Oct. 18) Breeders Crown eliminations for 2-year-old filly pacers at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
The 44-year-old Bates trains and drives Priceless for owners Kevin Miller and Bert Hochsprung, who also are starting a horse in the Breeders Crown for the first time.
It will be Priceless’ second Grand Circuit start of the year (she won the Kentuckiana Stallion Management on Sept. 20 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park) and she is the 7-2 third choice on the morning line in the first of three eliminations.
Baby Your The Best, the runner-up in both the Kentucky and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championships, is the 5-2 favorite followed by two-time Grand Circuit winner Reflect With Me at 3-1.
The field also includes International Stallion Stakes division winner Peaky Sneaky (4-1) and Kentucky Sire Stakes champ Gai Waterhouse (9-2).
Ontario Sire Stakes champion Alicorn is the 4-5 favorite in the second elimination and She’s A Great Lady winner Lyons Sentinel, who brings a six-race victory streak to the event, is the 3-5 chalk in the third.
The top three finishers from each elimination plus the fourth-place finisher with the highest earnings as calculated by Standardbred Canada will advance to the $600,000 final on Oct. 25 at Mohawk.
Priceless, a daughter of Rockin Image out of Btwnyurheartnmine, has earned $328,662 in nine starts, with an average margin of victory of five lengths in her six wins.
Priceless has finished second once and gone off stride twice, the first of which Bates attributed to a bad night and the second to interference.
She heads to her Breeders Crown elimination off her 1:52.2 score in the Indiana championship, where she paced her final quarter-mile in :26.1 and won by 6-1/2 lengths.
“I don’t know that she’s been any better all year,” Bates said Tuesday. “She’s really matured and attitude wise she seems as happy as she could be. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Bates and Priceless did not get off on the best foot.
“The first three days I didn’t like her at all,” Bates said with a laugh. “She laid down three days in a row. The first day I was brushing her and she laid down in the crossties.
“The second day I was putting hobbles on her and she laid down in the crossties. The third day, just before we were coming off the track, she kind of folded up and laid down in the jog cart.
“But when she got her mind on her business and her work, she just blossomed and excelled. She showed a lot of talent.”
One thing Bates has never had to worry about is Priceless missing any meals. The filly’s nickname is “Pudgie.”
“She likes to eat, and she looks like she’s a little fat,” Bates said. “Her race-night groom, Dani Copeland, gave her the nickname the first time we raced her down here. She’s a great eater.”
Bates would like to see Priceless eat up the racetrack Friday and advance to the Breeders Crown final.
“She’s got a lot of personality,” Bates said. “She gets turned out every day for as long as she wants to be out. She really likes that.
“She’s the first one out of the barn in the morning and then she gets back out and she likes to watch the other horses jog. She’ll pace some of them down the fence line and just really enjoys herself.”
Over the years, Bates thought he had two previous hopes of making it to the Breeders Crown, with trotters Haulin Laser (who got sick) and Swandre The Giant (who was sold).
“Hopefully the third time is the charm,” Bates said.
Racing begins at 7:50 p.m. (EDT) Friday at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Eliminations for all 2-year-old Breeders Crown divisions are on the card. Eliminations for 3-year-olds and up are Saturday, with a 7:10 p.m. post time.