05/02/2015 5:39PM

Freehold: Habitat wins Dexter Cup in 2015 debut

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Habitat had no anxious moments in his Dexter Cup win.

Habitat made life easy for driver Yannick Gingras in Saturday’s $133,170 Dexter Cup, taking the lead after the first turn and cruising to a 3-3/4 length win over Divisionist in 1:56 4/5 at Freehold Raceway.

“I like it that way; perfect for me,” Gingras said about the uncontested trip. “I just had to worry about the first turn, but once he was through there I know there would be no catching him.”

The Dexter Cup, for 3-year-old trotters, is the first open stakes test on the road to the Hambletonian Stakes. The $1 million Hambletonian is Aug. 8 at the Meadowlands.

Last year, Habitat won seven of 13 races and earned $534,407 in purses -- a total that ranked third among all 2-year-old trotters, behind only divisional Dan Patch Award winners Mission Brief (female) and Pinkman (male). Habitat’s victories included the William Wellwood Memorial and Matron Stakes as well as divisions of the Tompkins-Geers, Champlain, and Bluegrass.

A son of Conway Hall-Habit’s Best, the colt is trained by Ron Burke and owned by Burke Racing, Our Horse Cents Stables, and Weaver Bruscemi.

Habitat was making his seasonal debut in the Dexter Cup. He led the field through fractions of 28 2/5, 58 4/5, and 1:27 4/5 on his way to victory.

“On the backstretch, I could tell they were coming a little bit so I just opened him up a little so I wouldn’t have to rush him in the last turn,” Gingras said. “He was never in doubt.”

Gabe The Bear Dean finished third, followed by Apostles Creed, Sixteen Encores, Ha Taylor, Broken Record, and Bavaro. Apostles Creed, Divisionist, Habitat, and Sixteen Encores are eligible to the Hambletonian.

Habitat made one start on a half-mile track last year, going off stride in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Buffalo Raceway. This time, he completed his task without trouble.

“It was a waltz around, which is great for his first start,” said Burke’s assistant trainer Shannon Murphy. “He didn’t have to get stressed out at all and he did everything right. A half-mile track, he only raced once on it last year and he made a break and we were a little concerned, but once Yannick scored him down he gave me the thumbs up.

“He filled out (last year to this) and didn’t get really much bigger, but he’s matured mentally and we’re hoping for a big year with him.”

Earlier on the card, E L Love and Northern Obsession each won a $35,750 division of the Lady Suffolk Stakes for 3-year-old female trotters. E L Love, driven by trainer Riina Rekila, won by 2-3/4 lengths over Riley’s Dream in 1:58. Northern Obsession, driven by Eric Abbatiello for trainer Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, won by a half-length over Southwind Cartier in 2:01.

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