by Mike Farrell
Captain Crunch and Bettor’s Wish square off again as we move into the heart of the 3-year-old season in standardbred racing.
Their rematch comes Saturday night in the $682,650 Meadowlands Pace. It is the encore to the North America Cup on June 15 where Captain Crunch prevailed by three- quarters of a length in a Canadian record 1:47 2/5 mile.
It was a snappy return to form for the Captain after making a break in the eliminations the previous week, barely qualifying for the final.
The combination of that miscue, and landing post 8, shook the confidence of the bettors who usually back the 2018 Dan Patch winner with gusto. He paid 4-1 for the NA Cup win, perhaps the longest mutuel anyone will garner on him this year.
Captain Crunch now sports a snazzy 10-1-1 ledger in his 15 career starts. He already owns a major win at the Big M, taking the Governor’s Cup last fall en route to the divisional title.
Bettor’s Wish, the Art Rooney winner, gave his all that night at Woodbine but settled for second.
Both turned in sparking wins in last week’s Pace eliminations, setting the stage for a rousing rematch.
Captain Crunch rolled to a 1:48 3/5 score and landed the rail for the final. As usual, Scott Zeron will handle the lines for trainer Nancy Johansson behind the 2-1 morning line favorite.
Johansson, the daughter of retired Hall of Fame Jimmy Takter, is emerging as a leading conditioner in her own right. This will be her first starter in The Pace final.
Captain Crunch hails from the first crop of 2013 Pace winner Captaintreacherous who sired half of the 10 starters in this year’s Pace.
Bettor’s Wish was in total command of his elimination, drawing clear by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:49 1/5. Dexter Dunn drives the 3-1 second choice from post 4 for trainer Chris Ryder.
“He’s so reliable when he races,” Ryder said. “Every time he races, he shows you some brilliance. I’m not nervous; I’m going to enjoy it because you don’t get in these spots very often.”
It might be hard to relax as Ryder has a lot riding on the outcome. He is co-owner of the colt along with Bella Racing, Fair Island Farm and Ken Solomon. Thus far, the $20,000 yearling purchase has earned $664,556.
“Honestly, he’s a little better than I thought he would be,” said Ryder whose best Pace finish was a second by McArdle in 2002.
Price shoppers at the pari-mutuel windows will undoubtedly give Workin Ona Mystery a look at 5-1 from post 9.
He was third in the NA Cup as the 7-5 favorite, losing steam after a punishing opening half mile in 52 4/5. In The Pace elims, Workin Ona Mystery was only a half-length behind Captain Crunch.
Tim Tetrick, on the ballot this summer for Hall of Fame induction, will be in the sulky for trainer Brian Brown.
Tetrick is a five-time Pace winner. He is only two wins behind John Campbell’s record for victories in The Meadowlands’ signature event.
How well Workin Ona Mystery performs depends on how badly his severe allergies kick up. Brown has treated the horse in a hyperbaric chamber to improve his health.
“Some horses just fight through everything,” Brown said. “Luckily we have one of those horses that has the will to win, and wants to be a good horse.”
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.