05/19/2016 2:07PM

Meadowlands: Southwind Frank prepared for 2016 debut on Friday

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Derick Giwner
Southwind Frank starts as the 7-5 morning line favorite in race 6 on Friday at The Meadowlands.

The road to August’s $1 million Hambletonian Stakes resumes this weekend with a slew of races, including the first appearance of the year by early-season Hambletonian favorite Southwind Frank.

And trainer Ron Burke, who conditions Southwind Frank, couldn’t be happier.

“I’m excited,” Burke said. “I’m ready to get going. I’m glad he’s racing.

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“You want to start seeing if he’s as good as you think he is. If not, you want to know what you need to work on. But I’m hoping that right off the bat it’s good and it just stays good. We just need a little luck and I think he’ll take care of the rest. He trained down super and seems great.”

Southwind Frank, who finished his 2015 campaign with 10 consecutive victories, makes his seasonal debut in Friday’s opening round of the New Jersey Sire Stakes for 3-year-old male trotters at the Meadowlands Racetrack. Southwind Frank and driver Yannick Gingras will start from post four in a 12-horse field and are the 7-5 morning line favorite.

Other Hambletonian-eligible trotters in the race are Bar Hopping, Brooklyn Hill, Dominion Beach, Honor Above All, Jack Vernon, Metatron, Promise Delivered, Sigmund, and Southwind Flash. 

Last year, Southwind Frank won 11 of 12 races and earned $786,419. His wins included the Breeders Crown, Peter Haughton Memorial, and William Wellwood Memorial. In addition, his time of 1:52 2/5 in a division of the International Stallion Stakes set the world record for a 2-year-old male trotter.

He received both the Dan Patch and O’Brien awards for best 2-year-old male trotter.

Southwind Frank was owned last year by the Burke Racing Stable, the partnership of Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi, Our Horse Cents Stables, and J&T Silva Stables. This season he races for the Southwind Frank Partners, which includes the previously mentioned owners as well as Diamond Creek Racing.

A son of Muscle Hill out of the mare Flawless Lindy, Southwind Frank was purchased as a yearling for $100,000 at the 2014 Lexington Selected Sale. His family includes Dan Patch Award winner Cayster as well as stakes-winners Giant Hit and Program Speed.

Southwind Frank heads to the New Jersey Sire Stakes off a 1:54 qualifier win on May 14 at the Meadowlands. He finished second in an earlier qualifier, which came a week after being held out of qualifying because of a quarter crack.

“Other than that everything has been picture perfect with him, totally uneventful,” Burke said. “The quarter crack could have turned into an issue and it didn’t. I think it’s no longer a worry.”

This is the second consecutive year that Burke brings a top contender onto the Hambletonian trail. Last year, it was filly Mission Brief, who battled back woes before challenging the boys in the Hambletonian. She won her Hambletonian elimination and finished second to Pinkman in the final.

“He’s way more push-button than her,” Burke said. “And so far we’ve had no issues. This colt just gets better and better. But honestly, with (Mission Brief), I was more emotionally involved than I am with him. She’s my all-time favorite. The losses with her were horrible, the worst in the world. I like him, but I’m not as attached --- at least at this point --- as I was to her. Certain horses you just dig. You know, that’s my horse. She’s the one I like the most.”

During his 10-race win streak, Southwind Frank posted every victory by at least 1-1/4 lengths. Burke said it’s hard at this point to determine where the colt’s bottom is.

“He did everything so easily last year and Yannick did such a nice job protecting him, not showing him off,” Burke said. “I think there’s a lot more there. He does things once in a while when he’s training where you’re like, ‘What the heck?’ You’re reading the watch trying to figure out if what he did is possible. He might be something really special this year.

“I’m just hoping he stays sound. I think the schedule we have set right now in our minds is perfect for him to be at his best when he hits (Hambletonian Day). If you win that, your whole year is made. That’s the ultimate goal. Yannick doesn’t have one, I don’t have one, so it’s very important to both of us.”

Other races on the road to the Hambletonian are Saturday’s two Currier & Ives divisions at The Meadows and one New York Sire Stakes division at Vernon Downs.

Hambletonian-eligible trotters in the first Currier & Ives division are Desert Runner, Hititoutofthepark, Iron Mine Bucky, and Steed. Hititoutofthepark is the 7-5 morning line favorite. The second division includes Hambletonian eligible Breedlove, Hollywood Highway, and Leggs Matter.

At Vernon Downs, three Hambletonian-eligible trotters compete in the second of two New York Sire Stakes splits. They are Chukkar, Reve Royale, and The Perfect Lindy. 

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