By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Julie Miller is hoping to enjoy a strong Espresso on Saturday at Freehold Raceway.
Espresso, a two-time Grand Circuit winner and Kentucky Commonwealth Series champion last year, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s $137,775 Dexter Cup for 3-year-old male trotters at Freehold’s half-mile oval. The Hambletonian-eligible gelding, who is making his seasonal debut, will start from post two with Andy Miller in the sulky.
Last season, Espresso was no worse than second in 10 of 11 races, winning six, and earned $243,400. In addition to the Commonwealth title, his victories included divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion stakes, all during a five-race win streak in the fall.
“He really rounded into form when we had him at the Red Mile,” said Miller, who trains Espresso for the Andy Miller Stable, Louis “Andy” Willinger, Mortgage Boys Stable, and L Berg Inc. “He had luck on his side and things worked out. The owners had a great season, and they were tickled pink. We were very happy with him.”
Espresso, a Brittany Farms-bred son of Chapter Seven-Biscotti, was purchased for $45,000 at the 2021 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.
“When we saw him at Brittany Farms, he was kind of my diamond in the rough,” Miller said. “He was a little small, but he was correct. He’s bred well, he’s dual eligible (New York and Kentucky). I thought I kind of got a steal.
“Training down, he was a little challenging. We had to add (trotting) hobbles and change his shoes a couple times. But when he decided to put it all together, he gave us some thrills.”
Espresso enters Saturday’s race with three qualifiers under his belt. He finished third in a group mixed with pacers on March 31 at Freehold and fourth in his two most recent outings, both at The Meadowlands, on April 7 and April 22.
“The qualifiers haven’t been spectacular, but we’ve made adjustments to his equipment and training regimen, and hopefully he’ll bounce back to his 2-year-old form,” Miller said.
Miller will also send out Met Your Request in the Dexter. The gelding will be driven by her son, Tyler, and leaves from post six in the seven-horse field. He is 15-1 on the morning line.
The son of Met’s Hall-Quest Blue Chip was a winner on the Grand Circuit last year and has won four of 11 career races. He is 1-for-1 this season and has $65,626 in lifetime purses for the Andy Miller Stable and Caroll Huffman.
“His first start was a nice tightener for the Dexter,” Miller said. “Both of my horses have qualified at Freehold, so they’ve been around the track. Obviously, you need some luck on a half-mile racetrack when you draw the outside. So, we’re hoping for some good luck.”
The Dexter Cup is the first Grand Circuit event of the season for 3-year-old male trotters. One other horse in the field, Designer Drink, is eligible to the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes on Aug. 5 at The Meadowlands.
Designer Drink, trained by Symon Spicer, was a winner in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes series last year and finished third in the final. The son of Bar Hopping-Designable, who will make his seasonal debut in the Dexter, has won two of eight races and earned $99,473 for owner Keystone Stable.
Starting from post five Saturday with Andy McCarthy in the sulky, Designer Drink is 9-2 on the morning line. He enters the Dexter with three qualifiers to his credit. He went off stride at Freehold on April 14, followed by a third and a fourth on April 18 (at Harrah’s Philadelphia) and April 29 (at The Meadowlands).
“He made a break in the first turn at Freehold, but he was a little grabby,” Spicer said. “So, we took him back to Philly and he qualified fine. We’re confident he’s going to get around the half (at Freehold).
“This will be his first start on Lasix. We figured he was bleeding at the end of his 2-year-old season, that’s why we quit with him. He bled a little bit in a qualifier, so we’re working on that. We’ll see how Lasix helps him. I’m hoping it helps him a lot.”
Designer Drink’s best win time, 1:55 set at The Meadows, was one of last season’s fastest on a five-eighths-mile track by a 2-year-old trotter.
“He’s very versatile,” Spicer said. “He can leave, he can take back; he can do whatever you want.”
The 4-1 second choice in the Dexter is Candy Bomber, who will start from post four with driver Todd McCarthy.
Candy Bomber, trained by Ron Coyne Jr., finished second in a division of the Simpson Memorial last year and earned $20,421 in nine starts. The son of Tactical Landing-Candy Lane heads to the Dexter off a 1:57.3 win in a conditioned race at Harrah’s Philadelphia on April 30. He is owned by Ron Coyne Stables, Blair Corbeil, Mike McAllister, and Edward Pachuta.
Saturday’s card at Freehold also features two divisions of the Lady Suffolk Stakes for 3-year-old female trotters.
Ake Svanstedt-trained and driven Emira Mil, an import from Italy who was stakes-placed last season, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first division, which goes for a purse of $27,725. Canterbury Hanover, a winner in the New York Sire Stakes last year, is the 2-1 choice in the second group, which goes for $28,725. She is making her debut for trainer/driver Jeff Gregory after racing for trainer Marcus Melander in 2022.
Both fillies are eligible to the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks on Aug. 5 at The Meadowlands.