07/09/2013 2:53PM

Meadowlands: Laterza barn's Hill I Am a solid favorite in NJ Sire Stakes final

Lisa Photo
Hill I Am is perfect in two career starts.

Everyone loves the little guy. Trainer Dennis J. Laterza is far from little in size and has over 1,000 training wins to his credit since 1991. He has made his living as a mainstay on the Yonkers Raceway backstretch, one of the few still stabling at the Westchester County oval. Stakes horses have been few and far between over the previous decade, but in Hill I Am he could have something special.

Hill I Am is a 2-year-old trotting colt by $3,273,342 earner Muscle Hill out of I’m A Checkmate, a mare Laterza trained and from a family that has treated him well. Back in 1999, Laterza trained Cumin’s Promise to a second place finish in the $100,000 NJSS Final.

“[Cumin’s Promise] was good but she had allergies and never lived up to her potential,” said Laterza, who recalled she won her Elegantimage elimination back in 2000, but came up sick in the $556k final.

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At 2-for-2 in his brief career, Hill I Am has done everything right. He won his debut mile, a NJSS race, in 1:56 4/5 and followed it up with another NJSS score, this time in 1:55 4/5.

“He is scared of everything,” joked regular driver Corey Callahan. “If I scream at him, he goes. If I tap him with the whip, he goes.”

Hill I Am is owned and bred by Roy Dobbins of Alabama. The relationship between Dobbins and Laterza goes back quite a ways.

“I’ve known him since 1985,” said Laterza. “He has sent me horses every year, but in the last 6 or 7 years he has been breeding only New York breds and I didn’t have enough stalls to handle 10-12 a year, so he sent them up to Saratoga. This time he had a New Jersey bred (Hill I Am).

“I didn’t train [Hill I Am] down,” said Laterza. “[Dobbins] did a great job with him. I just get them ready to race and finish them off.”

 On Saturday, Hill I Am is listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite from post 2 to defeat nine foes in the $150,000 NJSS final, one of four Sire Stakes finals on the 14-race card.

Laterza, 62, has trimmed his workload in recent years and has taken a bit of a backseat to his son Dennis A. Laterza, who his dad says has a “love for animals and a passion for the sport.” The younger Laterza is the listed trainer for the barn on all horses outside of Yonkers Raceway (including Hill I Am). Together the father-son team has a chance to experience something special.

 “This horse can be one of the top colts. He has the desire, that’s for sure,” boasted a normally modest Laterza. “Everything we do with the horse is all about next year. He is not heavily staked this year, but he’ll be eligible for all the big races next year.”

With the initial legs going for $20,500 and $21,000, the real racing for Hill I Am clearly gets underway in the final. Southwind Spirit and Sumatra are two colts he has avoided to this point. Each has scored victories leading up to the big payday. In round one it was Southwind Spirit that posted an in-hand 1:57 triumph. In round two, Sumatra hung the exact time in defeating Southwind Spirit by a half-length. Sumatra will start from post 3 With Andy Miller in the bike and Southwind Spirit from post 7 with Yannick Gingras.

Well Built could be an interesting play for longshot players on Saturday. Also a Muscle Hill-sired colt, he finished second in both preliminary races. Trainer Chris Ryder is once again listed to steer from post 9.

Rounding out the field are: Chocolate Day (post 1), Angels Ransom (post 4), Muscle Midas (post 5), Quikwit (post 6), Muscle On In (post 8) and Muscleprinctonian (post 10).

For Laterza, as he winds down a long career filled with countless hours at the barn, he is eyeing something with Hill I Am that every trainer dreams about.

“If we don’t use him up this year, he has a shot at the Hambletonian,” said Laterza. “He’s definitely going to be a good one. I’ve never had the chance to say that before.”

The New Jersey Sire Stakes colt final is race 3 on the stakes-packed card that features the $635,750 Meadowlands Pace (race 10). First race post time is 7:15 pm.

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