By Ken Weingartner, USTA — The King Stable knows the thrill of winning the Pepsi North America Cup, having captured the 2015 edition of the million-dollar race for 3-year-old pacers with Wakizashi Hanover in an upset over Wiggle It Jiggleit.
On Saturday, the stable will return to Woodbine Mohawk Park for a North America Cup final for the first time since that memorable day, hoping to spring another surprise with Lyons Surfing.
Lyons Surfing, who will start the North America Cup from post seven with driver Andy McCarthy, finished second behind Confederate in his elimination last week. Lyons Surfing was a first-over fifth at the race’s half-mile point but paced his second half in :53.1 to secure his spot in the final field of 10.
“I thought he went a really big, exciting trip,” trainer Jim King Jr. said. “He was first over a long way. I don’t know if many horses could have been out there first over and still been in the right spot when they finished. He had every right to be fourth.”
Was King holding his breath in the stretch?
“I was pushing (him along),” King said with a laugh. “I was doing all I could on my end.”
Lyons Surfing, a son of Stay Hungry-Surfside Sexy owned by Threelyonsracing, was a two-time winner on the Grand Circuit last season. This year, he has five second-place finishes and a third in seven starts. The only horses to finish ahead of him in his three most recent outings are all North America Cup finalists: Confederate, It’s My Show, Ammo, and Fulton.
“I think the horse is just now coming around,” King said. “He was a pretty heavy horse coming into the season. I can see a difference in his structure the last couple weeks. He’s losing his baby fat. He seems to be getting stronger, and a little more racy. That’s a big deal.”
Lyons Surfing was purchased under the name Surf City Hanover for $110,000 at the 2021 Standardbred Horse Sale. His second dam, Beachy Lady, produced Grand Circuit winners Cabana Fever, Summer Side and Wicked Little Minx. His third dam is multiple Dan Patch Award-winner She’s A Great Lady, who is the mother of Dan Patch Award-winner Lady MacBeach.
Confederate is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the North America Cup, followed by It’s My Show at 3-1, Fulton at 9-2, Voukefalas at 5-1, and Christchurch at 6-1. The remainder of the field is 12-1 or higher. It’s My Show, Fulton and Christchurch joined Confederate as elimination winners and were guaranteed starting spots in posts two through five.
Tim Tetrick will drive Confederate for trainer Brett Pelling, leaving from post five. It’s My Show (Scott Zeron-Linda Toscano) has post two, Fulton (Dexter Dunn-Toscano) post four, Voukefalas (Jordan Stratton-Mike Russo) post six, and Christchurch (Todd McCarthy-Nancy Takter) post three.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with (the draw),” King said. “I’ve got good horses to follow, if that’s the way it turns out. That’s all up to him and Andy. I’ve got plenty of confidence in both of them.”
King had plenty of confidence in Wakizashi Hanover eight years ago. The gelding defeated Wiggle It Jiggleit, the eventual U.S. Horse of the Year, by three-quarters of a length in 1:48 with Tim Tetrick in the sulky. The previous week, Wakizashi Hanover had rallied from sixth place with a :25.3 last quarter-mile to win his elimination.
“It was tremendous,” King said. “The horse was so on his game. I had more confidence in that race than any race I’d ever been in even though he was facing Wiggle It Jiggleit. He went the two races of his lifetime, first in the elimination, where he was outstanding, and then the final.
“That was special. We were just at the beginning of this type of (Grand Circuit) type of stuff. Not everyone gets to play at that level. It’s a big deal. That was the highlight of our careers, everybody involved here.”
King’s wife, Jo Ann, was the trainer of Wakizashi Hanover. King would enjoy seeing his name listed with a Cup winner, too.
“It would be outstanding to have a husband and wife both do it,” he said.
The North America Cup headlines a stakes-filled card Saturday at Mohawk. The night’s races also include the C$420,000 Fan Hanover Stakes for 3-year-old female pacers, C$305,000 Roses Are Red for older female pacers, C$250,000 Goodtimes for 3-year-old male trotters, and C$210,000 Armbro Flight for older female trotters.
Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park. For free past performances, visit the track’s website here.