03/28/2017 1:49PM

Harness: Down Under Horse of the Year coming to America

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Cran Dalgety
Christen Me won nearly $2.5 million in Australasia.

Richard Poillucci has admired pacer Christen Me from afar. With this week’s arrival of New Zealand’s 2015 Horse of the Year on U.S. soil, Poillucci looks forward to appreciating Christen Me’s talents from much nearer proximity.

An 11-time Group 1 winner Down Under with nearly $2.5 million in purse earnings, Christen Me was recently purchased by Poillucci from the stable of New Zealand trainer Cran Dalgety. Christen Me, a 9-year-old gelding by stallion Christian Cullen out of the award-winning broodmare Splendid Dreams, will be trained in the States by the husband-and-wife team of Jim King Jr. and Jo Ann Looney-King in Delaware. Tim Tetrick will drive Christen Me.

Christen Me won 32 of 68 races in Australasia including the Miracle Mile, Auckland Cup, Victoria Cup, Hunter Cup, and Easter Cup. He hit the board a total of 53 times. He was trained by Dalgety and driven by Dexter Dunn for owners Charles Roberts and Vicki Purdon.

“We’re very excited about him,” Poillucci said. “I’ve been trying to buy him for a long time. He’s quite the horse. There aren’t too many horses with his credentials to arrive in America. Dexter Dunn told Tim Tetrick that he’s the best horse he’s ever driven. If this guy is what we think he is, we could have a lot of fun.”

Although he is 9 years old, Christen Me’s 68 starts are relatively few for a horse of that age.

“He’s like a spring chicken,” Dalgety said on his website. “He is working great and looking fantastic.

“We probably won’t realize quite how good he was until he’s gone. Not many earn $2-million plus in Australasia; only about seven or eight.”

The sale of Christen Me came to fruition after it was confirmed the gelding was suffering from minor exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. Lasix, which is permitted to treat the condition in North America, is not allowed Down Under.

“A few races back, (Christen Me) was second to Lazarus, who is probably one of the best horses to ever race Down Under,” Poillucci said. “If he can finish second with bleeding issues to arguably the best horse in Australasia, what can we do here with Lasix and treating for bleeding?

“They can’t do anything about it there, so why not give him the opportunity to be the shining star that he is? He could come back to be a very exciting horse in North America. If it all works it could be something really special. I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping that he’s the guy.”

Poillucci said the Kings will take their time preparing Christen Me for this year’s racing in North America.

“I did stake him to a few stakes that are later on so his acclimation could be a nice slow process,” Poillucci said. “It takes time. The first year is a very tough year for these horses. You’ve got to hope that everything goes well. Their clock is completely different. They’re going into fall; we’re coming into spring. They don’t know whether to grow hair, not grow hair. You’ve got to do the right thing by the horses.

“He’s in tip-top shape. He’s a great looking animal, an absolutely gorgeous horse. Cran does an amazing job with his horses. We’re not going to go overboard with him this year. We’ll race him in some major races and see how he fares.”

Christen Me is Poillucci’s latest purchase from Down Under, joining New Zealand-bred mare Nike Franco. Poillucci bought Nike Franco last year and she went 4-for-4 on the Delaware circuit, with a 1:51 victory over the boys in the Dover Downs Open Preferred Handicap to close out the season.

The 7-year-old daughter of McArdle-Nearea Franco was one of the favorites in this year’s Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway, but was sidelined because of a virus after her first start in the event. Nike Franco finished seventh in that start, but was beaten by only 2-1/2 lengths. She will miss the remainder of the series.

“She has so many good races ahead of her that it doesn’t make sense to try to rush her back,” Poillucci said. “I think she could be arguably one of the top three mares in North America. That’s from Timmy, Jimmy. She was the best pacing mare in all of Australasia last year. She’s very, very talented.

“Just what she did in her last start, being sick, was pretty amazing as well. That shows you her desire and heart.”

Poillucci has downsized his stable to feature Christen Me, Nike Franco, and 5-year-old trotter Maestro Blue Chip, who won 13 of 20 races last year and earned $238,000. Maestro Blue Chip is being pointed to the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial on May 6 at the Meadowlands.

In addition to those three horses, Poillucci has two 2-year-old pacers in training.

“The plan was to keep the cream of the crop,” Poillucci said. “I wanted a good trotter, a good mare, and a good Open pacer. I have Maestro, Nike, Christen. I have a couple of babies that are coming. We’ll see where we end up. I sold four very good horses (recently). I’ve decided to try to stay with the upper echelon and see how that works.

“Whether that works or not, I can’t tell you,” he added, laughing. “But it sounds good. I like what I’ve got.”

What Poillucci does know is that he’s looking forward to this year. Poillucci lives in Massachusetts, where he runs several businesses, including a luxury auto body center and real estate development company. He first became interested in harness racing while playing hockey in Canada.

“If you don’t get excited about stuff like this in this business,” Poillucci said, “then you don’t belong in it.”

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