Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Magic Tonight and D'One are qualified ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

"Oh, so you only visit us when there's a good horse in our barn?" said Marcus Johansson, a week ago Friday.

He said this (presumably) in jest, since he and wife Nancy Takter Johansson, proprietors of Team Johansson, currently have the reigning Horse of the Year, J.K. She'salady, in their shedrow.

But he had a point, we concede.

This WAS my first visit to the Johansson stable at White Birch Farm in New Jersey, and it was two trotters recently arrived from Sweden - well, recently arrived from quarantine in Maryland, after arriving from Sweden - I was specifically there to see.

One was Magic Tonight 1:52-1/5f ($1,344,081), winner of this year's Elitloppet at Solvalla in Sweden.

The other was D'One ($889,185), the daughter of two champions who both took world records of 1:50-1/5 on the very same day at Lexington, Kentucky's famed Red Mile in 2007, namely Donato Hanover and Giant Diablo (she by Supergill).

Trainer of record for Magic Tonight and D'One - who, if things work out as planned and hoped, will both campaign in North America until this autumn's Breeders Crowns - is Roger Walmann, but they'll be residing with Marcus and Nancy for the next several months.

A few brief notes on Roger Walmann ...

He races mostly in Sweden, despite being Norwegian, has been to the United States many times and has won several big races here, including the 1986 Roosevelt International Trot with Habib, the 2012 Breeders Crown mares trot with Tamla Celeber S., and the aforementioned world-record with Giant Diablo in that year's Allerage FFA.

The first stakes on Magic Tonight's and D'One's respective plates are both on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands, Saturday, Aug. 8, the John Cashman Jr. free-for-all trot and the Fresh Yankee mares FFA trot.

But before that, they needed to qualify, which they both did, in rein to Marcus Johansson, at Meadowlands this past Saturday.

Magic Tonight finished third, trotting in 1:54, home in :26-4/5, in a 1:53 mile won by Lindy's Tru Grit. (Interestingly, Wind Of The North, who also raced in this year's Elitlopp, finished second.)

D'One de-won her heat (sorry, couldn't resist) in 1:54-3/5, home in :27-1/5, by open lengths.

"Both were very impressive," says Marcus, who added, "I just raced them both conservatively."

It's expected that Orjan Kihlstrom - also no stranger to our shores; he won last year's Breeders Crown Open Trot at M'lands with Commander Crowe - will drive these Walmann trotters on Hambo Day, and beyond.

Will both horses be ready for top efforts in their U.S. debuts? Don't know, but it should be interesting to watch.

Notes ...

Magic Tonight (Andover Hall-Miss Possessed by Self Possessed), a 6YO horse, started his racing career in the U.S. before being exported in 2013. He earned almost $500,000 stateside, with a 1:52-4/5f mark racing for Adam Victor & Son and trainer Noel Daley. He was bred by the familiar pair of Marvin Katz & Al Libfeld, and he's owned by AOJ Konsult of Lidkoping, Sweden. Magic Tonight's groom is Viktor Flink Ideborn.

D'One, a 5YO mare conceived and foaled in the U.S., was bred by Thomas Persson Finans AB. She races for Stall Kenny (Kenny Thornblom, et al), and her groom is Malin Boman-Friberg. D'One has never started in the U.S., with the exception of her qualifying race.

And finally, J.K. She'salady, last year's undefeated Horse of the Year for the training Johanssons (and unrelated caretaker Lena Johansson)? According to Marcus, she's on the shelf, "With some small issues. We're going to take our time bringing her back."

Peter Lawrence's photo.
(Photo of the author, holding Magic Tonight, by Marcus Johansson.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Productive New Pacing Stallions

Some of the new sires from the class of pacers born in 2008 have been experiencing early success in the various sire stakes programs in the US and Canada. Roll With Joe, who we looked at in a recent piece, is the top sire of two-year-old pacers in New York. Shadyshark Hanover is turning heads in Indiana. And Big Bad John and Big Jim are drawing attention to themselves in Ohio and Ontario, respectively.

Shadyshark Hanover was very fast; the full brother to Sharky Osborne, who brought $90,000 at Harrisburg, won the Holmes in a track record 1:47.3 over Hugadragon, Roll With Joe and Big Jim. That was the fastest race mile of the year for his class. However, this was his only open stakes win at three, and the Nassagaweya was his only open stakes win at two. Although he did set a track record for his class at Pocono in his freshman BC elimination.  He won six time in 28 lifetime starts, primarily eliminations and consolations. One could compare him to his speedy paternal brother from the following crop, Hurrikane Kingcole, who, despite his vaunted speed, wears the Nassagaweya as his only open stakes win.

The strapping son of Cam’s Card Shark stands for $3,000 in Indiana. His current class consists of 88 registered foals, a figure that will be cut in half next year. His top performer is the chestnut filly, Ginger Shark, who is four for four in the ISS, and crushed the field in Friday’s $75,000 final. Another Shadyshark filly, Shady Caroline, was second in that race. She has won twice and banked almost $40,000. The fillies are ahead of the colts right now.

Shadyshark is tenth on the two-year-old earnings list, ahead of Dragon Again, Bettor’s Delight and Rock N Roll Heaven. And he ranks twelfth in average earnings per foal, ahead of Well Said and Rocknroll Hanover. With that crop reduction to 43 next year, let’s hope we don’t see the same break in momentum that has been evident this year with fellow Hoosier Always A Virgin.

Big Bad John, a smooth going $130,000 Lexington Selected purchase from the last crop of Western Hanover, won 7 of 9 relatively soft starts at two, including splits of the Bluegrass and ISS, and he took the Jug at three, when he won 11 times. He was no factor in division voting at two and got only six percent of the vote the following year. John raced in a $12,000 open at Pompano in January as a four-year-old in order to eclipse the million dollar mark in earnings. BBJ was higher on the pecking order than Shadyshark, but he was well below Roll With Joe, who earned $1.8 million and received 85% of the Dan Patch votes cast.

Overall, Big Bad John, whose stud fee jumped $1,000 to $5,000 in 2015, ranks second only to SBSW on the earnings list, with 73 starters banking more than $500,000. He’s third in the average earnings per foal category, a testament to the regeneration of the Ohio program as well as his own promise as a stallion. Friday night Virgil Morgan’s colt, Primo Giovanni, won a $40,000 split of the OHSS at Northfield in 1:55.2. Saturday night the filly Big Bad Ashley engineered a very strong wire to wire win in 1:54.2 in another OHSS split at Scioto. And Queen Ann M made a three deep brush to the top into the last turn for Chris Page, after starting from the nine post, and won another split in 1:55 at odds of 3/5.

Big Jim scored more than 95% of the Dan Patch votes as a freshman after finishing up with dominating wins in the Breeders Crown and Governors Cup. He was viewed as a blossoming star as he entered his sophomore campaign. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass, as he earned more than $700,000 in an abbreviated ten race season, but had no open stakes wins.

Jim has been standing for $4,000 after opening at $5,000. He faces the same sort of momentum issues as his brethren: this crop consists of 73 foals, but next year there will only be 41. The median price for his yearlings was only $15,750: 40 averaged $24,000. The paternal brother of Rocknroll and American Ideal can obviously pump up those numbers over the next couple of months.

Monday night at Grand River his daughter Tempus Seelster won an elimination for the Battle Of The Belles in 1:56.1 as the second choice for Travis Henry. Another daughter, Bold Amoretto, from the millionaire Artsplace mare, Armbro Amoretto, was second in another split and made the final. And the black gelding Magnum J took a Battle Of Waterloo split. There will be two in the Belles final and one in the Waterloo.

A quick mention is also due another paternal brother of Big Jim, who is sending his first crop to the races in Ontario, Vintage Master. Tony Alagna’s filly, Thatsoveryverynice, set an OSS record when she crushed a field of her peers in 1:51.2 for Jody Jamieson recently at Mohawk. There are only 47 freshmen by double-millionaire Vintage Master, but they bear watching.

Joe FitzGerald


Mission Brief Takes on the Boys

Mission Brief's connections have made the decision to take on the colts in the Hambleotnian instead of racing in the Hambletonian Oaks where she would have been 1-9 to win the Oaks and collect the $250,000 winner's share of the purse .

What made Ron Burke and the owners decide to take on the boys in the Hambletonian and go up against the Takter Juggernaut, a quintet of trotters which will be entered into the race?  Is it a case of sportsmanship or mere foolishness?  After all, the last filly to win the Hambletonian was Peace Corps back in 1996.

While the Hambletonian is a heat race, with the top finishers of the first heat returning for the final, one may assume the Takter quintet is likely to scare off plenty of potential starters so there is a good chance there will be one dash for the cash as it takes fourteen horses to go with eliminations.   If the race goes as a single heat, a second place finish in the Hambo has the same purse value as winning the Oaks and third place would pay $120,000, not a small amount of change.  If the race goes to eliminations, it is possible some off the quintet will be eliminated before the final, improving her chances in the final.

Let's not kid ourselves, the money machine known as the Ron Burke stable can afford to be sportsmen in this case, as it was said by Burke, $250,000 is nice but winning the Hambo will mean something more to the stable, a sense of legitimacy which having a Hambletonian winner will bring.  While a very successful operation, there has always been whispers regarding how his stable has operated.

Regardless how the Hambletonian plays out, Mission Brief brings more excitement to the run up to the big race.  It will be interesting to how this gamble pays off.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A big "Grattis" and happy 70th birthday ...

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor to VFTRG

... to the great Swedish trainer-driver "Stig Ho," Stig H. Johansson, a European harness horse business legend, who is well-known here in North America, too.

Stig H. Johansson, Photo credit Travronden
(And look, he's smiling in this recent photo! What next, countrymate Berndt Linstedt laughing? Swedish stoicism is not to be trifled with.)

Where to start on SHJ's accomplishments? Stig H.'s top horses have included, but are by no means limited to The Onion, Utah Bulwark, Napolitano, Peace Corps, Gum Ball and my personal favorite, Victory Tilly (all winners of the Elitlopp trotting classic, by the way), the latter of whom wowed us at the Meadowlands with a win in the 2002 Nat Ray (now, John Cashman) FFA in 1:50-4/5.

That would be a very fast time now, and it was accomplished 13 years ago!

Stig H. also won the prestigious Prix d'Amerique trot at Vincennes, France with Queen L. In 1993.

Still active as a trainer, SHJ retired from driving in 2005. His first driving win, and his last - in, respectively, 1963 and 2005 - both were recorded at Solvalla in Sweden, a track where he was leading driver 29 times, including 27 straight years.

Stig H. has 6,222 driving wins, and more than 7,000 training wins.

So again "Grattis" and happy 70th birthday to Stig Henry Johansson!

(Note: Statistics courtesy of Wikipedia and the SHJ website, plus the writer's feeble remembrances.)

Playing Favorites?

Chuck Sylvester has been hit with a positive for Cobalt.  While the veteran trainer doesn't know how this happened, he understands as the trainer of record, he has to take responsibility as the State of Pennsylvania has handed him a 15 day suspension and a $500 fine held in abeyance until the results of the split sample came back.

The question some may ask is assuming the split sample comes back positive, what happens to the veteran trainer with respect to the tracks operated by Jeff Gural?  After all he trains two horses for Gural.

Well, if you subscribe to what the anti-Gural voices say, those who claim his policies are arbitrary and he plays favorites, life will go on and this positive will just get shoved under the carpet.

Guess what?  Jeff Gural has already said if the split sample comes back positive, Sylvester will become persona non grata at the three tracks.operated by Gural..  In addition the two horses Sylvester trains for Gural will be sent to another trainer.

What is that about playing favorites with regards to drug positives?