By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — As a trainer, Eric Abbatiello is grateful to race a trotter like New Heaven. As a driver, he is appreciative of the opportunity to sit behind one like Melady’s Monet.
On Friday, he will do both.
Abbatiello will get the action started with 10 afternoon drives at Freehold Raceway, including in the $12,000 preferred handicap trot, where Melady’s Monet was assigned post seven in a seven-horse field. The 12-year-old gelding, trained by Hermann Heitmann, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite as he tries for win No. 17 this season and No. 84 lifetime.
Owned by Melady Enterprises, the homebred son of Revenue S-Keystone Melady is less than $11,000 from $2 million in his career. His 16 victories this year are tied for second among all male trotters and his $281,180 in purses rank ninth among older male trotters. He has earned more than $125,000 in nine consecutive years.
Abbatiello has driven Melady’s Monet five times in his career, all this season in the preferred handicap at Freehold. Melady’s Monet, who prior to this year last raced at Freehold in 2012, has been the favorite only once but posted four wins and a second.
“He’s a wonderful horse,” Abbatiello said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to drive him. He’s two fingers (to drive) and does whatever you ask. Some of his best miles have been first over late or coming from behind. He likes to chase.
“He’s gentle. He’s sound and he’s happy. He’s raced regularly in the upper classes, and he hasn’t missed a year. He amazes me.”
On Friday night, Abbatiello will send out New Heaven in the $43,000 open handicap at Yonkers Raceway. New Heaven will leave from post two with driver Dan Dube and is 7-1 on the morning line.
The 7-year-old gelding is owned by Dave Offenberg’s Allister Stables. Offenberg bought New Heaven privately from Ron Burke in March 2019 after watching the trotter for several weeks. He won his first two starts for Offenberg and Abbatiello in the open handicap at Yonkers and has totaled 15 victories and nearly $400,000 since the purchase.
“Those are the kinds of things you dream about,” Offenberg said. “With the (yearlings), you always try to get the gold ring. With racehorses, it’s a lot more difficult to put those kinds of numbers up.
“You have to give Eric all the credit. As an owner, I can press the buttons and open my checkbook, but in the end it’s the trainer who really makes the horse a success. The drivers are important, but the trainer is key. Eric has done a super job with the horse. He’s been a pleasure.”
New Heaven, a son of Yankee Glide-New Day whose distant family includes 1948 Hambletonian winner Demon Hanover, has won 34 of 150 career races and $626,017.
“He’s very versatile,” Abbatiello said. “A lot of the top trotters, you’ll see when you drive them or train them, will kind of pull you around the track and kind of be a little bit always on the iron. But he’s not. He’s calm, cool, and collected.
“He’s just a real nice horse. We take care of him, and he takes care of us. There are not many like him around.”
Just like Melady’s Monet.
“Melady’s Monet is awesome and New Heaven is excellent too,” Abbatiello said. “Got lucky.”