10/03/2014 11:06AM

Red Mile: Nuncio and Campbell hoping for Futurity glory

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Chris Gooden
Nuncio has never been worse than second in his career.

The Kentucky Futurity has a rather long and distinguished history. On Sunday afternoon the 122nd edition of the now-second leg of trotting’s Triple Crown will be contested at Lexington’s famed Red Mile. Hall of Famer John Campbell has been one of the most successful drivers in the sport’s history and owns six victories in the Kentucky Futurity. If he’s to get lucky number seven Nuncio, a bridesmaid way too often in his brilliant career, will have to turn the tables on division leader Father Patrick.

The post draw on Thursday afternoon in the Red Mile winner’s circle did little to improve Nuncio’s chances as he landed post six in the field of nine and will have to look at five others inside before the gate springs open. In that group, from the pole position will be the likely 1-5 betting choice Father Patrick.

“Father Patrick’s a great horse,” said Campbell about the horse he has chased all season long with Nuncio. The only time Nuncio finished ahead of Father Patrick this year was in the Hambletonian when Father Patrick broke. On that afternoon Nuncio put in one of his most gritty career performances racing under pressure only to give way late to Trixton.

Nuncio, a son of Andover Hall, may just be unlucky enough to be born in the wrong year. “He’s as consistent as a horse could be,” said Campbell, referring to the horses’ record that says 22 starts, 12 wins and 10 seconds. There are few horses in the sport’s history, especially on the trotting side that can boast such impeccable lines. Even fewer would not be considered the best in their class.

For Campbell the Futurity will always be special, though he did say it took perhaps a few years too long for him to capture one.

“I was pretty confident that Mack Lobell (1987) would win the Triple Crown and take the Kentucky Futurity,” said Campbell, recalling the brilliant campaign the Chuck Sylvester-trained colt carried out that year.

“He won the first heat and then I was able to back the second heat down where I thought no horse could beat Mack,” said Campbell, “But Napoletano had a :26 second quarter in him and he just got beat.”

Indeed, everything went perfectly in Campbell’s execution but the results were disappointing.

Two years later Campbell sat in that special chair where winners celebrate the Kentucky Futurity championship after piloting Peace Corps, a filly, to victory.

It’s been 25 years since but Campbell has not lost his appetite for winning the big ones.

Unlike many Kentucky Futurities in the past this year’s edition will be a single dash for the $435,000 prize. In the races’ rich history three and sometimes more heats were required to crown a champion as the race-winner needed to win two heats.

Father Patrick obviously appears destined to make amends in some regard for his Hambletonian disappointment. The son of Cantab Hall comes off an easy score in last week’s Bluegrass as does Nuncio. Both colts hail from the Jimmy Takter stable that has been dominant in stakes action throughout North America this year.

Father Patrick has been first or second in all but one career start winning 20 of 23 lifetime races with two second place finishes. Nuncio was the only horse to defeat Father Patrick during his brilliant two-year-old campaign.

While the Futurity has been the scene of many an upset over the years, the loss of heat racing and the large purse, combined with the heavy favorite landing inside, could make an upset even harder to come by this year.

Both Nuncio and Father Patrick won in 1:50 4/5 last Sunday at the Red Mile with Father Patrick winning on the front end and Nuncio very comfortable coming from off the pace.

Datsyuk and trainer-driver Charlie Norris is the only horse to defeat Father Patrick this year when the colt did not make a break. Yet the son of Explosive Matter has struggled since that victory at Tioga on August 26. Datsyuk tired badly last week after contesting the pace in Nuncio’s Bluegrass division.  Datsyuk starts from post four.

Trainer Ron Burke appears to have found the right combination for Hillustrious. The son of Muscle Hill was on the bit for much of the mile in his second place finish to Nuncio last week. Dave Miller handles the colt from post five.

Trainer Frank Antonacci has what has to be considered a sleeper in Mr Lindy, a Cantab Hall-sired colt that starts from post seven with Scott Zeron in the bike. A winner in four of five lifetime starts, Mr Lindy finished third to Nuncio last week trotting in 1:52 for the first time in his career.

The Kentucky Futurity goes as race 10 on the 11-race Red Mile Sunday program with a first post scheduled for 1:00 pm.

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