07/14/2011 11:29AM

Betterthancheddar looks to buck trend in Meadowlands Pace

New Image Media
Betterthancheddar could become only the second Meadowlands Pace champion who did not race as a 2-year-old.

Winning the Meadowlands Pace can be a daunting task. Now try accomplishing it with a horse that never raced as a 2-year-old. In the previous 34 editions of the Pace, only Allamerican Theory achieved that feat back in 2003.

That is the mission faced by trainer Casie Coleman and her top sophomore student Betterthancheddar, whose only action as a 2-year-old was a pair of qualifiers.

Betterthancheddar was prepped for action in July 2010 with a pair of qualifying wins. He was even entered on Aug. 9, but it was not meant to be. He got sick.

“He was very sick and we couldn’t get him healthy at all; bad lung infection,” said Coleman. “We had to wait and be patient, let him heal himself.

“He was prepped to be back earlier (before his April 21 qualifier in 2011) when he flipped his heart (fibrillation). Then, again, we lost yet more time. It was a disaster; one thing after another.”

With bad fortune behind him, Betterthancheddar posted a couple of winning qualifiers before an uninspiring sixth-place finish. Then he began to roll. He cleared the non-winners of 1 condition with ease by two-plus lengths. That was impressive, but the hype was just about to begin.

Betterthancheddaruncorked a spectacular 1:49.2 mile at Mohawk in his third start. Coleman was like a proud parent with an honor student following the race. “I’ve been telling people since day one that this horse is one of the best I’ve ever had,” said Coleman.

With the bar set to the sky, Betterthancheddar came up short in his first stakes engagement, losing to Roll With Joe despite pacing a solid 1:49.4 mile. He followed that up with what a disappointing fifth-place finishes in the North America Cup eliminations and consolation.

Next up was an easier spot in the Summertime series. The colt made multiple moves and proved his worth. He was back on schedule and ready for the Meadowlands Pace eliminations.

Sent off as the third choice, Betterthancheddar came first-over at the half and grinded up slowly in his Pace elim. He never seriously threatened but held his ground well for third and a spot in the big dance.

“I thought he raced well,” said driver David Miller, who was sitting behind him for the first time. “He went uncovered a long way and hung in there. I tried to get him out of there [show early speed] and he threw a couple of steps in right off the gate, which cost him getting away a little better.

“Turning for home he was still digging in and he dug in all the way to the wire.”

Coleman was quick to take the blame moments after the elimination for what she called a minor adjustment that she neglected to make before the race.

“I did have a little cork on him and it was my own screw-up,” said Coleman.“At home [Mohawk/Woodbine] our track is a little bit deeper. I should have known better and took them off for the Meadowlands. He was just sticking too much with that extra grab in his feet.”

After getting Betterthancheddar re-shod on Monday, Coleman said they found “a few other things they could fix on his feet.” With those issues corrected and a few extra days in the tri-state area, Coleman feels Cheddar is ready to go.

“He should be all corrected by Saturday,” said Coleman. “We’ll go a couple of slow trips tomorrow [Wednesday]. It is so hot down here, I won’t train him fast. He’s been adjusting to the hot weather really well, though.”

Betterthancheddar has a spot on the gate for the $1 million Meadowlands Pace final - post seven. It was a rare year when Coleman, who has drawn the 10-hole in her share of big finals, had a chance to smile at the draw.

“I was very, very happy, I was hoping to be on the left side of the draw board, but post seven is just fine, we can deal with that.”

Lining up on the gate is one thing, but can Betterthanched-dar realize the talent his trainer is so sure he possesses?

“Obviously he hasn’t proven it yet,” said Coleman on Betterthancheddar’s accomplishments. “I’m very confident that he will. He just needs to be second- or third-over. He doesn’t like it on the front; he doesn’t like it first-up. If you can get him off a helmet, he can just launch.

“With the seven-hole I’m going to say he’s obviously going to have to ‘gun out’ some. Whether he guns-out hard or just a bit, that’s totally up to Dave [Miller]. The horse is fast off the gate, so if Dave wants to blast out, he can.”

If Coleman succeeds with Betterthancheddar, she will become the first ever woman to win the Pace. She will be smiling in the winner’s circle and undoubtedly someone will quip, “Say cheese.”

More on the Meadowlands Pace:
Big Jim installed as Meadowlands Pace favorite
Meadowlands Pace string ends at 30 years for John Campbell
Canadian entries have inside track at Meadowlands Pace
Meadowlands Pace Past Performances for every horse compliments of TrackMaster