11/17/2016 4:50PM

Rosecroft: Wakizashi Hanover takes aim against strong Potomac Pace field

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Wakizashi Hanover reached the pinnacle of the harness racing world when he pulled off an upset victory over odds-on favorite Wiggle It Jiggleit in the $1 million North America Cup at Mohawk Raceway in June 2015.

The pacing son of Dragon Again subsequently faded from the Standardbred spotlight and was sidelined due to a breathing problem that required two surgeries. The 4-year-old gelding, though, is on the comeback trail and may be ready to return to the spotlight in Tuesday evening’s $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway.

A winner of $1.1 million in 2015 and named Canada’s champion 3-year-old pacing colt or gelding, Wakizashi Hanover became hampered by a paralyzed flap in his airway at the end of the 2015 season and he underwent tie-back surgery in April. Winless in four starts after returning to action in July, the Pennsylvania-bred pacer underwent a second surgery in August that appears to have breathed new life into his racing career.

“He had two different surgeries. The first was OK, but it wasn’t sufficient. He had another surgery and, since the second surgery, everything seems much closer to where he’s supposed to be,” said Jim King Jr., who trains Wakizashi Hanover in a partnership with his wife Joann Looney-King.

In his two official starts since returning to action in November, both at Dover Downs in Delaware, Wakizashi Hanover lost a photo finish while finishing second and, most recently, closed from far back to capture an open handicap by a nose in 1:49 2/5.

“He paced his last half in 53-and-3 (seconds) – that’s pretty good. I don’t care if you’re at the Meadowlands, 53-and-3 is pretty good,” said the 64-year-old trainer, who is based in his native Delaware.

Wakizashi Hanover had demonstrated a strong late kick in the North America Cup, in which he defeated Wiggle It Jiggleit by three-quarters of a length in 1:48 for driver Tim Tetrick.

“We were pretty confident going in, even knowing that Wiggle It Jiggleit was in the race. I had never seen a horse like Wiggle It Jiggleit before,” King said. “My horse was all about himself at that time. In the elimination, he was super-outstanding. His last quarter was 25-and-2 (seconds) against a good bunch of horses. The next week, he tripped out and did what he needed. He followed Wiggle It Jiggleit around there and, when the time came, he accelerated.”

A similar performance would make Wakizashi Hanover mighty tough to beat in the Potomac Pace, which drew a field of eight, including Shamballa, who became the only horse to beat Wiggle It Jiggleit and Always B Miki in the same race while registering a career mark of 1:47 1/5 at Meadowlands in August.

“I think that’s a tall order, but I think he can compete with the horses he’s in with (Tuesday). I saw a lot in the last two weeks that wasn’t there earlier, so I think he’s on the comeback trail,” said King, who will hand the reins to Trace Tetrick, Tim Tetrick’s younger brother. “I kinda wish he had one more start under him, but you go when the opportunity is there. I’m not going to be astonished if he wins. I think he has a real chance.”

-edited release (Rosecroft)