11/20/2014 11:43AM

Breeders Crown: Muddled sophomore pacing division comes down to the Crown

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Limelight Beach could challenge for 3-year-old divisional honors with a Breeders Crown win.

The race for divisional honors could become clearer, or further muddled, depending on the outcome of Saturday’s $531,250 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old male pacers at the Meadowlands.

No fewer than eight horses in the 3-year-old male pacing division can claim at least one major open stakes triumph this season.

The Pacing Triple Crown races – the Cane Pace, Little Brown Jug and Messenger – were won by Lyonssomewhere, Limelight Beach and All Bets Off, respectively.

[DRF BETS: Bet the Breeders Crown Pick 4s on Saturday and get a 15% Bonus]

Among the richest remaining open stakes for 3-year-old male pacers, the North America Cup went to JK Endofanera, the Meadowlands Pace to He’s Watching, the Max C. Hempt Memorial and Delvin Miller Adios to McWicked, the Monument Circle to Always B Miki, and the Matron to Big Boy Dreams.

Always B Miki, JK Endofanera, Limelight Beach and McWicked are among the 10 horses in Saturday’s Breeders Crown. So is Luck Be Withyou, who won last season’s Breeders Crown for 2-year-olds, as well as Little Brown Jug runner-up Let’s Drink On It.

Limelight Beach and Always B Miki won their respective Breeders Crown eliminations last weekend.

Always B Miki, who won by a neck over JK Endofanera in 1:50 for his fifth consecutive victory, drew post No. 4 and is the 8-5 morning line favorite. Limelight Beach, who won by a half-length over McWicked in 1:49 3/5, got post five and is the 3-1 third choice behind 5-2 JK Endofanera.

Although the Progress Pace and Cleveland Classic follow the Breeders Crown, many will look to Saturday night to provide some clarity about the division picture.

“I think Always B Miki has come on really good in the fall,” said Yannick Gingras, who drives rival Limelight Beach. “If he wins, I think it gives him the division. The same thing for JK Endofanera. Limelight Beach, if he wins this, I think there will be talk there too. After that, I’m not sure.”

Always B Miki is a homebred son of Always A Virgin-Artstopper from Joe Hurley’s Roll The Dice Stable and named in honor of Hurley’s wife. Hurley owns the colt with Mitchel Skolnick’s multi-partnered Bluewood Stable and Martin Granoff’s Val D’Or Farms.

His victories include his Crown elim, Monument Circle, Indiana Sire Stakes championship, and divisions of the Tattersalls Pace and Bluegrass Stakes. He has finished no worse than second in 12 consecutive starts, winning nine. For the season, he has won 12 of 19 starts and $791,482.

One of his runner-up finishes came to He’s Watching in world-record-equaling 1:46 4/5 in the Meadowlands Pace despite starting from post nine and racing on the outside – three to four wide at times – the entire way.

“That was probably the biggest mile I’ve ever seen a horse go,” said David Miller, who drives Always B Miki for six-time Breeders Crown-winning trainer Joe Holloway. “It was unbelievable.”

Always B Miki was supplemented to the Breeders Crown for $62,500.

“It is unbelievably unexpressionable; that’s all I can say,” Hurley said about having the Breeders Crown favorite. “It’s ecstasy.”

When Miller was asked if Always B Miki compared favorably to No Pan Intended, a 3-year-old colt pacer Miller drove to Horse of the Year honors in 2003, he replied with a grin, “Oh yeah, for sure.”

Always B Miki’s half-sister, Yagonnakissmeornot, is the favorite in Saturday’s $281,250 Breeders Crown Mare Pace. But family connections are not limited to Always B Miki as JK Endofanera’s full sister, JK She’salady, is the favorite in Saturday’s $500,000 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly pacers.

JK Endofanera is a homebred son of Art Major-Presidential Lady owned by Alan, Ron and Steve Katz’s 3 Brothers Stables. He was named to honor the Katz’s late father, Jack Katz, as well as veterinarian Dr. Stephen P. Dey II, who passed away the day the horse was foaled at the Dey family’s Heritage Hill Farm.

The colt is trained by six-time Breeders Crown winner Ron Burke and driven by Ron Pierce. JK Endofanera’s wins this year include the North America Cup, American-National Stakes and a division of the Tattersalls Pace. He has won 10 of 17 starts this year and $956,145.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the horse raced (in his elimination) or the way I raced him,” Pierce said. “He had a lot of pace. I’m very happy with him and I feel very confident going into next week. I really feel good about him and the trip he got. Even though I was on top at the half, he was well within himself.”

Limelight Beach, a son of Somebeachsomewhere-Benear, was winless in his first 12 starts this season before capturing his opening heat and the final of the Little Brown Jug in September. The gelding was purchased by the Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, and M1 Stable in July, with one of the original owners, Wingfield Brothers, remaining on board.

In seven starts beginning with Jug Day, Limelight Beach has five wins and a second-place finish. His only off-the-board finish came in the American-National Stakes when he went off stride and was fifth.

“He jumped something,” Gingras said. “I’m not sure what he saw. I didn’t see anything, but he saw something.”

Limelight Beach has made 12 starts for Burke, finishing worse than third only twice. He finished fourth in his first race, was found to have bled, and added Lasix for subsequent starts. His wins include divisions of the Circle City and Bluegrass Stakes, plus his elimination for the Breeders Crown.

“Even two weeks before the Jug you could tell he was coming around a little bit,” Gingras said. “He was racing better and better every week, the addition of Lasix I think helped him, and he was finally healthy. It all came together in the Jug and he’s been really good since.”

McWicked, who is 6-1 on the morning line, also could make a statement for year-end honors. The son of McArdle-Western Sahara has nine victories in 20 starts, including a world-record 1:47 3/5 mile in the Hempt at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and a division-best $1.03 million in purses.

He was first-time Lasix in his Breeders Crown elimination after three consecutive third-place finishes.

[DRF LIVE: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF Harness reporters and handicappers at the Breeders Crown]

“I’ve been real happy with him,” said Casie Coleman, a three-time Breeders Crown winner who trains McWicked for owner Ed James’ S S G Stables. “I’m not a big fan of Lasix, but I decided to try it. He seems to be bouncing back at the right time. He trained (Wednesday) and was real sharp.

“This division has been wide open, it’s been a different winner almost every big race. It’s been good racing, and good betting races, because you never know what’s going to happen with this group. I’m thinking if one of these horses like JK Endofanera, McWicked, Always B Miki, Limelight Beach ends up winning the Breeders Crown, division honors is looking pretty favorable in their direction.”

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com