12/28/2017 6:08PM

Reinhart: Remembering the best races of 2017

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Saratoga Casino
The Gerrity Memorial was a thrilling race won by Bit Of A Legend N.

The curtain has come down on another Grand Circuit season and it’s now time to look back at some of the races which sent chills down our spines in 2017.  As with any list, this is totally subjective, but hopefully somewhere you’ll find your favorite race, or a race you had forgotten about and are now reminded how good it was.

1.  A “Legend”ary Gerrity

If this was a Thoroughbred list and I told you the race of the year was at Saratoga, you’d probably say that figured, but alas this is the Standardbred side.  With that said, harness racing’s race of the year was at the Saratoga Harness track – the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial for aged pacers. 

Contested on July 22 over the half-mile Saratoga oval, there was action throughout, with Boston Red Rocks and Somewhere In L A battling early, then Somewhere In L A and favored Sintra, who had gotten parked the route, hooking up through a hot middle-half.  Watching all that from mid-pack was Bit Of A Legend N and driver Jordan Stratton, and after getting off the rail in the third quarter, they would swing four-wide on the final bend and get up for the 1:50 3/5 win at odds of 15-1.

“Going into the race I thought there was going to be a lot of speed, and between me and (trainer Peter Tritton), the game plan was just to sit right to Sintra’s helmet, but when Sintra kind of sat parked I had to go back to Plan B and just kind of ride the rail,” recalled Stratton.  “It ended up working out.

“I definitely loved what was going on.  The whole time it was kind of up in the air seeing what was going on.  My horse is so handy that he can do it any way.  He can come from behind; I can start him up and then shut him back down and then he’ll come back on again.  That’s probably his best attribute.  When I was stuck on the rail, I really didn’t know if I was going to get or not.  Then they went a big third quarter which spread the outside tier out and I ended up getting out.  I was just as shocked as anyone.”

2.  “Hannelore” enters the record books

After Always B Miki’s 1:46 world record last year, The Red Mile was the scene of another amazing performance this year when Hannelore Hanover trotted a 1:49 2/5 mile, the fastest mile ever by a mare on October 7 in the Allerage Open Trot. The clocking was only two-fifths of a second off Sebastian K’s all-age, all-sex mark of 1:49 set at The Downs at Pocono.

“It was definitely my most special moment in racing, and I've owned horses for 35 years,” said Frank Baldachino, who co-owns the 5-year-old Ron Burke-trained mare.  “She came into race in super shape, but you never know what to expect when Ron pulled her shoes.  I never thought that particular race would go the type of fractions needed, unless she cut the mile, but when they went down to the half in 53 and change, I knew she would break 1:50.

“Hannelore is such a special horse. She shows up every race and competes at the highest level in the sport.”

3.  Bold Eagle takes flight

We go overseas for the next race and it was Bold Eagle’s win in his Elitlopp elimination in Sweden.  Parked first-over throughout by the fast mare Delicious, Bold Eagle powered to the lead at the top of the stretch and thundered away from the field, winning in a European record 1:50 flat over the five-eighths mile track.

Even though Bold Eagle flattened out in the final, finishing fourth to Timoko, his elimination performance certainly stole at least some of the headlines on that Sunday.

4. Downbytheseaside magical in the Milstein

Fear The Dragon came into the $300,000 Carl Milstein Memorial for 3-year-old colt pacers at Northfield Park with wins in the North America Cup, Max Hempt and Adios, and when he got to the half in just 56 seconds, it figured to be game over.  Downbytheseaside had other ideas, though, as he came first-over, paced a huge third quarter to get next to his Brian Brown stablemate at three-quarters and then went by in the lane to capture the race in 1:49 3/5.

“A good horse like Fear The Dragon wins that race probably 999 times out of a thousand,” said Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farm, who co-owns Downbytheseaside with Country Club Acres, Joe Sbrocco, and Richard Lombardo.  “It takes one of those special horses and special races to be beaten.  For him to do what he did that night against Fear The Dragon on a half-mile track proved that we had made the right call when we selected him as the one that we wanted to go after.

“At the time Fear The Dragon was the Horse of the Year and to beat him in a race that he probably shouldn’t have beaten him, it was like, all right now there’s a crack in the armor.  It was the first time he was able to exploit that.  I think it took him beating him in the Milstein to gain the confidence that it took to do what he did at the end of the year. ”

5. Pure Country wins a wild Breeders Crown Mare Pace

The open mare pace group had several excellent races this year – the Milton and Lady Liberty also come to mind - but the Breeders Crown Mare Pace, given the stakes, gets the nod.  It was a wild race on a muddy night at Hoosier, with the field fanned out seven-wide in the stretch at one point. When the dust settled, Pure Country, who had claimed a Breeders Crown at 2, gained another one at age 4, stopping the clock in 1:52 1/5 for driver Mark MacDonald and trainer Jimmy Takter.

“I think if anybody saw or was there live, I was pretty out of control in the winner’s circle, and about as excited as I’ve ever been for any race,” said Bowden, whose Diamond Creek operation owns and bred Pure Country.  “I think it was more redemption than anything else for her.  She had the undefeated 2-year-old season when she dominated the Breeders Crown and had a tough go at it here as a 4-year-old and was finally starting to come into her own. 

“She kind of worked out a relatively good trip in not so good weather, and to prevail like that over a very even group of horses kind of stamped her as one of the top mares.  She ended up finishing up in the TVG, and I know the voting hasn’t come out yet, but I would assume she’ll be one of the top two in the division again.”

6. A “Twister” blows through Yonkers

The $1 million Yonkers International Trot had sort of lacked a marquee performance since its return to the stakes calendar – Papagayo E won off a pocket trip the first year and then Resolve dominated on the front last year. 

In 2017 it did get a signature effort when Italy’s Twister Bi, trained by former Chuck Sylvester assistant Jerry Riordan and driven by Christoffer Erikson, overhauled Resolve from first-over on the way to three-quarters and then poured it on from there, winning by open lengths in 2:22 1/5, a new world record by almost two full seconds.

7. The Ewart delivers again

The 2016 Jim Ewart at Scioto Downs, a showdown between Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit, was one of the best races of last year, and the 2017 edition was also very good.  The lead changed hands at every call and McWicked, driven by Brian Sears, weaved from outside to inside in the lane to chase down Rockin Ron for a 1:49 3/5 win. Check Six and Boston Red Rocks, who dead-heated for third, were also right there in the tight finish.

“He was awesome that night,” said Casie Coleman, who trains McWicked for S S G Stables.  “I knew he was going to be good as he was coming off the start in the final of the Canadian Pacing Derby where he was locked up solid until last few feet.  He came out of that race razor-sharp.

“I was worried when McWicked was so far back, and then Rockin Ron opened up on the front-end.  Then when Brian went inside instead of outside, I thought we were racing for second as the leader was so far up on him, but Brian started to drive on McWicked and he responded well.  He finished up as hard as any horse could’ve finished a mile and got up in time.”

This list could go on even longer, but those are the races that stand out to me for 2017.  Happy holidays to everybody in harness racing, and thanks for another great year!