By Ken Weingartner, US Trotting Assn. — Monte Miki might not have been a head turner at the time of his birth, but, oh, look at him now. The unbeaten colt is garnering plenty of admiring looks following his win in the season’s most lucrative event for 2-year-old pacers, the Metro Pace, and returns to the races Saturday in the third of three International Stallion Stakes divisions for freshman male pacers at Red Mile.
A homebred son of Always B Miki out of Montenegro, Monte Miki is owned by Ohio’s Velocity Standardbreds, which is headed by Sylvia Norris, and is trained by her husband Mark Evers. The colt is 4-for-4 this year with earnings of $341,580.
It was Evers’ admiration for Montenegro, who was a top-level performer at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, that led him to purchase her for $57,000 at the 2016 Standardbred Horse Sale’s Mixed Sale and begin her broodmare career.
“I had a healthy respect for her when we raced against her at Hoosier Park,” Evers said. “I had wanted her for a few years, and when she was sent to Harrisburg (for the sale) I was going to get her no matter what. We were glad to get her.”
Monte Miki was her first foal.
And Evers’ laughs when recalling his first impression of the colt.
“When I delivered him, I told my wife he’s an ugly baby,” Evers said. “He was so big and ugly. But he came out of it. He prettied right up. He has a classy look. He’s just a classy colt, big and black and good looking. I just like everything about him. Knowing who is mother was, I expected him to do well and to be a good colt. And it’s turned out.”
Josh Sutton drove Monte Miki in his first three races, all at Scioto Downs in conditioned events for 2-year-olds. The third victory, in 1:52 from post eight following a layoff because of sickness, solidified Evers’ belief the colt was ready to go to Canada for the $650,960 Metro Pace.
“Josh told us this colt is a gorilla, he’s just playing,” Evers told Roger Huston recently on the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association podcast Top of the Stretch. “He won in (1):52 and was still flicking his ears and looking around. So, we decided to go with it.”
Scott Zeron was in the sulky for the Metro, where Monte Miki started from post 11 in the second tier of the 12-horse field. The colt was 10th at the half and faced traffic woes all around until Bob Loblaw went off stride entering the final turn and provided an opening. Zeron pounced on the opportunity, advanced three-wide heading into the stretch, and guided Monte Miki to a 2-3/4 length win in 1:52.2.
“It was a complete surprise to us,” Evers said. “I thought he was the horse enough, but the way the race was going, I had my doubts. Finally, he shook loose and that was all he needed. Scott worked it out and got him through there. He did a great job.”
Evers trained and drove Art’s Chip, who missed out on advancing to the final of the 2003 North America Cup through the unluck of the draw as a third-place finisher in his elimination, and finished second to Ponder by a neck in the 2005 Canadian Pacing Derby. So, the Metro triumph with Monte Miki was particularly satisfying.
“I’ve always looked at the Metro, the Canadian Pacing Derby, and the North America Cup as three of the biggest races there are,” Evers said. “To come back and win the Metro, it was quite a big deal for us. The money is great, but just to accomplish that was pretty neat. Long after the money is gone, you’ll still be known and thinking about winning that.”
Zeron returns to the sulky Saturday at Red Mile, where Monte Miki is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of eight. Following the International Stallion Stakes, the colt will be pointed to the Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands.
“Just with what he’s done already, I’m happy with him if he doesn’t do anything else,” Evers said. “Hopefully we can do some good these next few races. I don’t want to be too confident, but I think he’s got a good shot. But you need some racing luck, just like what happened in the Metro. You need a little bit of luck also.”