06/10/2017 3:07PM

Mohawk: Sophomore pacers gather for NA Cup eliminations

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David Miller drives both Downbytheseaside and Fear The Dragon in Saturday's NA Cup eliminations.

The fastest and richest 3-year-old pacers of 2017 will all gather at Mohawk Racetrack on Saturday (6/10) night to vie for one of 10 spots on the starting gate in the C$1,000,000 North America Cup Final the following week.

Three C$50,000 eliminations—led by Downbytheseaside, Huntsville and Fear The Dragon—featuring a total of 25 horses should provide some early season clarity in the race for supremacy among the sophomore elite.

While the point can be argued, the road to the winner’s circle in the Final still goes through Huntsville. The Dan Patch 2-year-old champion from 2016 drew post two in the second elimination (race 8) with regular driver Tim Tetrick slated to drive.

Trained by Ray Schnittker, Huntsville opened up his year with a 10 length Pennsylvania Sire Stakes win at The Meadows in the slop that opened some eyes, but was soundly defeated in his next PASS start at Pocono by Fear The Dragon. That loss had some second-guessing the possible dominance of the son of Somebeachsomewhere-Wild West Show for a brief moment.

All doubters were put back in line in his third start of 2017 when he left hard from post seven at Harrah’s Philadelphia and marched down the road despite hot fractions (26 3/5, 54 2/5 & 1:21 4/5) to demolish his PASS foes on that afternoon by more than seven lengths in a career best-equaling 1:49.

“He was very good the other night,” said Schnittker on the June 1 performance at Philly. “I was really happy with him. Timmy never pulled the (ear) plugs. I think if he chases him he goes in (1):48 and a piece. Nobody pays you for speed, but I thought he looked really good.”

While the trainer feels his horse is ready for the test at hand, he stopped short of making any bold predictions. “I think he is ready to peak. He’s had three starts now, but I guess we’ll find out for sure up in Canada,” said Schnittker.

Huntsville is joined in his elimination by newcomer to the Grand Circuit scene Beckhams Z Tam, an Indiana bred who has won each of his four starts in 2017. His last victory was a 1:51 score at Hoosier Park for the Macomber team of Jamie (trainer) and Rick (driver). Beckhams Z Tam starts from post three on Saturday.

The traditional prep in Canada for the NA Cup is the Somebeachsomewhere stake and four—Arsenal Seelster, Classic Pro, Beyond Delight & Richard Hill—in the eighth race are coming out of that event. Beyond Delight, who starts from post seven on Saturday with Sylvain Filion driving, was a disappointing sixth in his ‘Beach’ division as the 6-5 favorite. Classic Pro and Richard Hill were also well supported at the windows, with the former making a break and the latter finishing a credible third despite a slow final quarter.

Perhaps sitting in the driver’s seat in the other two eliminations is the trainer/driver combination of Brian Brown and David Miller with a pair of horses that have yet to taste defeat in 2017. They’ll undoubtedly send out the favorite in the first split (race 3) with Downbytheseaside from post four and certainly have the fastest horse on paper in the third elim (race 9) with Fear The Dragon from the seven-hole.

“I think it is a toss-up right now,” said Miller on which horse is better. “We’ll have to let the season play out and see what happens.”

Downbytheseaside has won each of his three starts on the year including the $300,000 Art Rooney final at Yonkers Raceway on May 27, but some would say his first couple of races weren’t quite as sharp as his most recent effort.

“I think he just needed to race. He had a couple of weeks off coming into the elimination,” said Miller, who helped the Ohio-based Brown by jogging the colt in the week leading up to the Rooney. “Brian (Brown) had him in great shape coming in. I just exercised him and helped get him a bit tighter.”

Downbytheseaside will start from post four in his elimination against seven foes, only one of which is coming off a victory in their last start, Western Hill, who won a conditioned event for trainer Tony Alagna.

The final elimination pits Fear The Dragon versus the sharpest North America Cup group. Macs Jackpot and Hurricane Beach are both coming off wins in the Somebeachsomewhere and Ocean Colony recently finished second behind ‘The Dragon’ in a recent PA Sire Stakes race at Philly.

Even though Fear The Dragon posted a strong five wins in 11 starts as a freshman, he wasn’t exactly on everyone’s radar as a top contender this year. That all changed after the son of Dragon Again blew by Huntsville on May 21 at Pocono en route to a two-plus length 1:49 1/5 win.

“Yeah, I was impressed,” said Miller bluntly about the effort before providing some background. “Honestly, Timmy (Tetrick, driving Huntsville) got to the lead and was rating. I came at him really hard and he let me go by. From where I was sitting, he wasn’t pressing his horse very hard and if he wanted to he could have made it tougher on me. After that my horse kind of got the jump on him.”

Fear The Dragon came right back with another 1:49 1/5 PASS win in his most recent start to keep his record perfect in four 2017 starts for owner Emerald Highlands Farm.

While Downbytheseaside and Fear The Dragon start in separate eliminations on Saturday, assuming they both make good on their favoritism Miller will have a tough choice to make in the Final. Last year he actually took Fear The Dragon over Downbytheseaside in the PA Sire Stakes final and finished third behind that foe and Huntsville, who won the race.

“I’ll weigh both horses when the time comes,” said Miller on the potentially difficult decision to come. “It is going to be hard to choose.”

The North America Cup is just one of a handful of stakes during the weekend at Mohawk. Friday features the Armbro Flight for older mare trotters and the Goodtimes for 3-year-old trotters. Hannelore Hanover and Broadway Donna standout in their respective eliminations. Enterprise will try to remain undefeated in one of two elims of the Goodtimes.

On Saturday the pacing fillies and mares join the North America Cup action. Darlinonthebeach and Pure Country hook up in one of two Roses R Red eliminations for older mares and last year’s 2-year-old filly champion Idyllic Beach headlines the first of two Fan Hanover splits.

The races kick off on both nights at 7:30 p.m.