05/08/2013 5:14PM

Meadowlands: Mister Herbie begins 2013 season in Arthur J. Cutler Memorial

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Mister Herbie and his winning connections after his Maple Leaf Trot win in 2012.

The 15-year history of the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial series has seen its share of spectacular trotters. Arch Madness, Lucky Jim and Mr Muscleman are just a few which have crossed the wire first in the rich trotting event. In 2013, Mister Herbie has the chance to join Sand Vic (2006/07) and Magician (2000/01) as the only back-to-back Cutler winners.

Mister Herbie’s Cutler win was part of a brilliant season by the millionaire trotter. He won 6 of 12 races including the $750,000 Maple Leaf trot while having to battle with Horse of the Year Chapter Seven for most of the season. With his main foe retired to stud, Mister Herbie will have his chance to stamp himself as the “top dog” if he can fend off a host of 4-year-olds ready for the older trotting scene.

“To be honest, we thought last year he was going to be San Pail (triple millionaire trotter; winner of 39 races in 55 starts from 2009 to 2011) and then Chapter Seven came along,” said Mister Herbie’s trainer Jeffrey Gillis. “I was looking forward to getting the better of [Chapter Seven] this year, but that won’t happen now. I don’t feel like the end results last year did Mister Herbie justice. We still have something to prove and I think he can establish himself as the horse to beat this year.”

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Unlike last year when he got underway at the start of March, Mister Herbie will be making his first start in race 8 at the Meadowlands on Saturday. The 5-year-old gelding comes off two solid qualifiers, though they were just over a month apart due to an ongoing quarter crack issue which first presented itself in April 2012.

“It would be nerve-racking if we didn’t deal with the same issue last year,” said Gillis on the injury. “He’ll likely need a tightener and hopefully he’ll be in form for the final.”

The injury curtailed plans for Mister Herbie to see the world.

“The original plan was to go to Sweden and compete in the Elitlopp,” said Gillis. “But the idea of going two heats just two weeks from now was tough to swallow with him less than 100 percent.”

Mister Herbie’s first task of the year will be to make the Cutler Final. He will need to finish at least fifth in a field of seven that features Meadowlands Maturity winner Modern Family, World Record holder Googoo Gaagaa, Tall Cotton, Ice Machine, My MVP and Undercover Strike.

In the first division of the Cutler, Gillis sends out Knows Nothing. Fifth as one of the favorites in last year’s Hambletonian, Knows Nothing failed to capitalize on a second over trip in the prestigious race, a fact that still weighs on the trainer.

“To be honest, not really,” replied Gillis when asked if he was happy with the performance of Knows Nothing in 2012. “When you get towed up second over as an elimination winner and finish fifth, that’s something you can’t get back.”

Knows Nothing prepped for his elimination (race 2) in a Preferred event at Woodbine Racetrack and Gillis was not willing to offer up any performance prognosis for this weekend or the future.

“I’m being very conservative in our expectations and approach,” said Gillis. “I think he may have drawn into the softer of the two divisions but I don’t really know what to expect.”

Knows Nothing will face Hambletonian runner-up Guccio and recent Free-For-All winner Wishing Stone among his six opponents.

The two $40,000 Arthur J. Cutler eliminations are part of a 14-race card at the Meadowlands which also features a pair of $50,000 Free-For-All Championship races for pacers. Post time is 7:15 pm.