07/01/2016 10:06AM

Northfield: Homicide Hunter has found his comfort zone for Cleveland Classic

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Chris Gooden
Homicide Hunter set a track record in his last start at The Meadows.

Plunking down a large sum of money to purchase a horse doesn’t necessarily guarantee a return on investment. In the case of Homicide Hunter, one of eight starters in Saturday’s $180,000 Cleveland Trotting Classic at Northfield Park, it has been slow going in terms of earning thus far in 2016.

When Michelle and Albert Crawford purchased last year’s Indiana champion 3-year-old trotter back in January, they were expecting him to turn into a top older trotter. Despite picking up just one win from five starts this year, their mindset remains the same when it comes to Homicide Hunter.

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“Absolutely,” said Michelle Crawford when asked if she was still satisfied with the purchase. “These older trotting races are really tough for 4-year-olds and he has been in against some serious competition.”

The Patrick Graham homebred was nearly perfect as a 3-year-old under the care of trainer Curt Grummel while racing almost exclusively at Hoosier Park. A son of Mr Cantab-Evening Prayer, Homicide Hunter won 16 of 18 races during his sophomore campaign and came to the Crawfords with 19 wins from 28 career starts and over $560,000 in earnings.

Crawford, who promised Graham to give Homicide Hunter “a forever home”, knew from the get-go that the gelding was going to require some time and patience.

“He’s very finicky and temperamental. He has a lot of quirks,” said Crawford. “For the first six weeks we really couldn’t get him to eat. It took time for him to get comfortable with his new home.

“Chris (Oakes, trainer) is finally getting to know him now and has him on a good routine,” she added.

While it took four starts to find his groove, Homicide Hunter stepped up his game in the Meadows Maturity on June 18. After sitting the pocket behind Muscle Up The Goal, he scooted up the passing lane to win going away in a track record for 4-year-olds of 1:51 4/5, one-fifth off the all-age track record.

The Meadows Maturity was his first start with driver Dave Palone in the bike after having different drivers in three of his first four starts of the year. Palone is once again in the bike on Saturday and they will leave from post two as the 4-1 third choice on the morning line.

Early favoritism honors were given to $2,547,962 career winner Shake It Cerry. The 5-year-old mare from the Jimmy Takter barn finished a fast-closing second in the Armbro Flight stake at Mohawk last time out.

“I think she is finally coming around,” said Takter just after the race.

Aaron Merriman will drive Shake It Cerry.

Obrigado has been one of the sharpest older trotters this year and he was lucky enough to draw the coveted pole position over the typically speed-favoring half-mile track at Northfield. Regular driver Mark MacDonald is in town to drive the Paul Kelley trainee.

Other contenders include a strong one-two combination from trainer Chris Beaver in Il Sogno Dream and Muscle Up The Goal in posts four and five, respectively, and Maestro Blue Chip (post six), a 4-year-old with 11 wins in 12 starts on the season for trainer Jo Ann Looney-King.

Having raced most of his career over the seven-eighths oval at Hoosier, Homicide Hunter actually does well over the smaller tracks as well, and Crawford is expecting a strong effort.

“We have been picking our spots,” said Crawford, who has Homicide Hunter well staked in 2016. “He is very good over a half-mile track. I’d be disappointed if he didn’t race well.”

Northfield’s Cleveland Classic is slated as race 11 on a 15-race card that gets underway at 6:00 p.m.