By Ken Weingartner
Gimpanzee was in the shadow of stablemate Greenshoe much of last season, with the latter being named the sport’s best 3-year-old male trotter as well as Trotter of the Year, but is basking in the spotlight now as he aims for a win in Saturday’s $250,000 Graduate Series final for 4-year-old trotters.
The Graduate final for trotters is part of a 13-race card at The Meadowlands that also includes the $250,000 Graduate championship for 4-year-old pacers, a single elimination for the Meadowlands Pace, and Reynolds Memorial divisions for 3-year-old trotters. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT).
A 4-year-old stallion, Gimpanzee heads to his Graduate test off victories in the two preliminary rounds of the series. He won his first start in gate-to-wire fashion by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:51.2 at Tioga Downs. Two weeks later, on June 27, he rallied from sixth at three-quarters to win by a half-length in 1:50.2 at The Meadowlands. That time is tied for fourth fastest of the season by a trotter.
For his career, Gimpanzee has won 19 of 25 races and earned $1.77 million.
“He trained well all winter and we were very excited to bring him back,” trainer Marcus Melander said. “He showed me how he was feeling all winter and he’s come back great. I couldn’t be more happy with him after two starts.
“He was a great horse last year and he’s filled out and put on a lot more muscle this year. You can really see that he’s a year older. He never threw in a bad race last year, and so far this year, he’s been very good.”
Gimpanzee, owned by Courant Inc. and S R F Stable, was undefeated in nine races at age 2 and received the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old male trotter.
Last year, he won eight of 14 races and earned $1.12 million but saw Dan Patch honors go to now-retired Greenshoe. Gimpanzee’s Grand Circuit victories in 2019 included the Breeders Crown (he also won the event in 2018), Yonkers Trot, and Matron Stakes.
“At 3, everyone was talking about Greenshoe because he was so extremely fast,” Melander said. “Gimpanzee didn’t have the speed or acceleration that Greenshoe had, but he still showed a lot of speed. It was just Greenshoe was so much faster than all the other horses. There are not too many like Greenshoe.”
Not too many like Gimpanzee, either.
“He’s the nicest horse to train,” Melander said. “At home, he’s perfect. He does exactly what I want him to do. He’s just the horse you’re looking for. If everyone was like him it would be very easy.”
Following the Graduate, Gimpanzee will have one more opportunity to face trotters in his age group when the Hambletonian Maturity is contested July 18 at The Meadowlands. Then, it will be into open stakes action, where the likes of Atlanta, Manchego, and Guardian Angel AS await.
“Obviously Atlanta and Manchego and those horses are really, really good,” Melander said, “but I have a pretty good horse too.”
Gimpanzee is one of three Graduate finalists for Melander, joined by mare Grand Swan and gelding Reign Of Honor. Grand Swan, who arrived in Melander’s stable in mid-April after two successful seasons in Indiana, won her opening race in the Graduate and finished sixth in her second, which was won by Gimpanzee.
“She’s nice,” Melander said. “I was very happy with her (in her first start) at Tioga, she was very good. I was maybe a little disappointed last time, but it was a fast race. She’s never been that fast, really. I think it was good for her to open up a bit and I expect her to be better Saturday.
“She really likes the training. When you train her, you can see she works with her whole body. She’s a very big horse but she has a good gait and could go around any size track. I think she will get better and better.”
Reign Of Honor, another newcomer to the Melander stable, started this year with a victory in a conditioned race and finished third in each of his Graduate races.
“We had all winter training with him and we were super happy with him,” Melander said. “He’s a little like Gimpanzee; he’s very easy on himself out on the track, not grabby. He’s got a lot of speed too.
I’ve been very happy with his performances and I think he will step up with more races and when he gets older. I think he will go with the open horses in the highest division. He feels like that kind of horse.”
Other finalists in the Graduate include Southwind Avenger, who made his only preliminary-round start a winner on June 27, and Chin Chin Hall, who finished second to Gimpanzee in his two prelims and was fifth in the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial last week.
Ken Weingartner is an HRI Harness contributor