By John Furgele
A week before the top thoroughbreds go at it in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Race Course, harness racing stages its own championships – the Breeders Crown, 12 races over two days (Oct. 30-31) at Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Anderson, Indiana.
The Breeders Crown, being held at the track about 265 miles northwest of Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, this year features several star fillies and mares – some taking on the boys – looking to add to their already impressive resumes.
Attendance will be limited at Friday and Saturday’s races due to COVID-19 pandemic health and safety restrictions.
Topping the list of horses is the perfect Party Girl Hill, the likely Horse of the Year. The 3-year-old filly is 14-for-14 in 2020, with $749,120 in earnings. She’s paced a mile in 1:47.2 and has done something rare in pacing — beaten the boys. So dominating, it’s likely she still wins Horse of the Year even if her perfect record ends in the $500,000 Breeders Crown Pace on Saturday.
A field of 10 is set for the Pace, but none of the challengers seem to be in the same class as Party Girl Hill. Lyons Sentinel, Lady Lou, Peaky Sneeky are all talented, and a second-place finish in this race should be considered an accomplishment. Party Girl Hill, meanwhile, is looking to go 15-0.
Next in the lineup of stars is the extraordinary mare Atlanta.
I am a fan. I’ve watched her blast out in her elimination heat at the 2018 Hambletonian only to get nipped at the wire. I still had confidence that she would win the final and got into a spirited debate with a fellow sitting next to me. He guaranteed Atlanta was spent. Well, she blasted out again in the final, but this time she had something left and won. My ‘pal’ not only congratulated me on my winning wager, he bowed to the filly on that scorching hot day in East Rutherford.
Atlanta will battle the boys again in the $500,000 Open Trot and will certainly get tested. Gimpanzee looked sharp last week at Hoosier Park when he came from third to win a $25,000 Invitational and if he’s up for battle, he certainly can beat Atlanta, who comes in 5-3-0 in 10 starts.
Another filly comes in with some curiosity attached to her. Shartin N is one of the best pacers of all time — regardless of sex — but she hasn’t raced that much this year. Furthermore, she’s done much of her work internationally and comes in with 5-3-0 in nine starts. She’s the 2-1 favorite in the $300,000 Open Mare Pace. The only other contender that has comparable speed is Kissin In The Sand, who is 6-1-0 in 10 starts and has a 1:47.4 seasonal best to her credit.
Warrawee Ubeaut seems to do her best racing on the big stage and should those two stumble, she’s a live one that could take the $150,000 first-place prize.
While Atlanta takes on the boys, two old rivals will square off in the $300,000 Open Mare Trot as Plunge Blue Chip (3-2-2 in eight races) goes up against Manchego (4-2-2 in 11 races). The morning line gives the slight edge to Manchego at 8-5 with Plunge Blue Chip the second choice at 9-5. When Dovescry is an interesting third at 7-2. She’s trotted 1:50.0 and the 7/8 mile Hoosier layout could be to her liking for trainer Brett Pelling.
As good as Party Girl Hill has been, Tall Dark Stranger takes a backseat to no one. He has won 11 of his 12 starts and that includes the Meadowlands Pace and as much as I believe Party Girl Hill should be Horse of the Year, a win in the $500,000 3-year old pace will warrant him serious consideration. His resume is outstanding: 11 wins, over $1.1 million in earnings and a seasonal best clocking of 1:47.1. He can run any style and should he win and Party Girl Hill lose, then HOY honors could be up for grabs.
Cattlewash is an interesting study. He races great in eliminations and then struggles in the big finals. He blazed a 1:47.2 to win his elimination last week and has an even faster 1:46.4 seasonal best, but he has just four wins in 12 starts this year. Which Cattlewash shows up Saturday remains to be seen.
The 3-year old filly trot races for $500,000 with Sorella coming in as the 3-1 favorite. This is a good field and nobody would be surprised if there’s a major upset. Sorella is 7-0-3 in 12 starts and one of those wins was the Hambletonian Oaks when she dispatched New York-bred Hypnotic Am who comes in with 5-5-2 in 12 starts with over $660,000 in earnings.
The 3-year old trot is missing the star, Hambletonian winner Ramona Hill. She got sick after racing in The Grand Circuit at The Red Mile, so she’ll be on the sideline as 10 colts battle for $500,000. Amigo Volo is peaking at the right time with seven wins in 13 starts and $608,323 in earnings. Ready For Moni, Back Of The Neck and Capricornus should be there to challenge in what truly is a wide-open affair.
There are five other races over the two days. The four finals for 2-year olds will be contested Friday evening and for many reasons, I struggle handicapping freshmen pacers and trotters. Nonetheless, let’s see what we can do here with those four, and Saturday’s Open Pace:
The favorite: Lady Chaos
Horses to Watch: Swift Sanda, Iteration.
The Skinny: These three have combined for 16 wins and over $800,000 in earnings and should slug it out for the top honor.
The favorite: Fire Street Hanover
Horse to Watch: Jk Alwaysbalady
The Skinny: The favorite is sired by one of the greatest pacers of all time in Somebeachsomewhere. Another all-timer, Always B Miki is seeing his babies ramp up and race. Let’s hope the fathers are enjoying some hay on Friday evening and watching.
The favorite: Venerate
Horse to Watch: Captain Corey
The Skinny: Venerate at 8-5 drew the five; Captain Corey at 9-5 drew the seven. Your guess is as good as mine.
The favorite: Perfect Sting
Horse to Watch: Southwind Gentry
The Skinny: There are 10 entered: three are sired by Always B Miki, three by Somebeachsomewhere and two by Betting Line. Let’s go with Jk Going West, who was sired by another good one, Jk Endofanera.
The favorite: Bettor’s Wish
Horses to Watch: Century Farroh, Backstreet Shadow
The Skinny: My favorite division, the venerable old pacers, but truth be told, Bettor’s Wish has the most upside. The rest are good, but their halcyon days are over.
On Friday, the Breeders Crown races are the eighth, 10th, 12th and 14th on the card with a starting post of 7 p.m. ET. On Saturday, post time is 7 p.m. with the Crown races slotted eight through 15.
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.