By Ken Weingartner — They might not be standard for a pacer, but Jeff Cullipher has a good idea what his 3-year-old Roll With JR will need to wear in Saturday’s lone Meadowlands Pace elimination.
“I hope he can put his big-boy pants on,” Cullipher said with a laugh.
Roll With JR was among a dozen 3-year-old male pacers entered in the Meadowlands Pace. Two horses, Allywag Hanover and Chief Mate, advanced to the final courtesy of byes based on seasonal earnings.
The top-eight finishers in Saturday’s $50,000 elimination at The Meadowlands Racetrack will join them in the $631,650 final July 18.
The elimination field includes returning Dan Patch Award-winner Tall Dark Stranger, who in his only start this year defeated older horses in 1:47.4 at the Big M. The time is tied for the fastest mile of the season.
Also in the field is last season’s richest 2-year-old male pacer, Papi Rob Hanover, who finished second to multiple Grand Circuit winner Capt Midnight in their only start of 2020.
Roll With JR, who finished second to Meadowlands Pace hopeful Catch The Fire in last year’s Kentucky Sire Stakes championship, will be making his first trip to The Meadowlands since finishing third in a 2-year-old qualifying race there on June 22, 2019.
He heads to the elimination off a 1:51.2 win in his seasonal debut at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. For his career, the colt has won four of 12 races and $176,516. His wins last year included a division of the Bluegrass Stakes.
“He was such a green horse (last year) I never felt like he reached his full potential,” the Indiana-based Cullipher said. “But he went a couple decent miles and showed that he can. He kind of grew into himself over the winter; he’s developed and is kind of a nice-sized colt.
“He’s still the kind of colt that’s only going to do what he’s made to do. I know I don’t have a (1):48 mile in him yet, I don’t even know if he could do it. I’d like to think he could step it up with the better horses.”
Cullipher owns Roll With JR, a son of Roll With Joe out of No One Is Alone, with Pollack Racing. Cullipher and Tom Pollack have been increasing their presence on the Grand Circuit in recent years.
“It’s exciting,” Cullipher said. “Me and Tom are starting to step into these races a little bit. We’re just having fun right now.
“This might be a one-shot deal, I don’t know, but so far I’m happy.”
Another horse making his first trip of the season to The Meadowlands for the elimination is Major Betts. The Mark Harder-trained colt prepped with qualifiers at Gaitway Farm and Harrah’s Philadelphia before winning his only 2020 start in the New York Sire Stakes at Tioga Downs on June 28.
Major Betts defeated favorite Splash Brother by three lengths in 1:49.4, the fastest mile of the young season by a 3-year-old on a five-eighths-mile track.
“I trained him Tuesday morning and I thought he was super,” Harder said. “I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Harder had an opportunity to accept one of the two byes for the Meadowlands Pace but decided against it.
“I couldn’t be off three weeks going into the final, that would not make sense at all,” Harder said. “He needs the work.”
Major Betts, a son of Art Major out of Southwind Johanne, has won five of 12 lifetime starts and $153,390 for owners Harder, Joseph Jannuzzelli, and Deena Rachel Frost. His wins last year included divisions of the International Stallion Stakes and Tompkins-Geers.
“He was just always fast, he was just beautifully gaited,” said Harder, who won the 2004 Meadowlands Pace with Holborn Hanover. “He was a colt that had one of those gaits that he just didn’t work at it. He did everything pretty easy.
“A couple of times last year he did some silly colt things. This year, he acts more professional. He drives like an old horse. It’s probably a little bit of rigging, a little bit of growing up, a little bit of everything. Hopefully it’s a bit of good management. It might just be good luck.”
Harder wouldn’t turn down any good luck in the upcoming weeks.
“A lot of (the 3-year-olds) are very impressive,” Harder said. “Tall Dark Stranger and Papi Rob Hanover are very good, Allywag Hanover has been very impressive. They’ve been racing at The Meadowlands and times there have been crazy.
“We beat a horse that looked pretty impressive, Splash Brother. It’s a completely different class, but it shows we’re there and we’re competitive. Tall Dark Stranger and Papi Rob Hanover are the two standouts for sure, but there are a lot of really, really good horses. Nothing is easy.”
Ken Weingartner is an HRI Harness contributor