At this point many two-year-olds have a couple of starts in them, so it’s time to marry personal observations with wild speculation and project which ones will be stepping up to win the Cup, Jug and Hambletonion next year. This is by no means a definitive list of the best of the best; as a matter of fact I’m going out of my way to include some by off-brand stallions. That being said, here are a few early standouts.
Artspeak is a Western ideal colt out of the Artsplace mare, The Art Museum. The Western Ideals have fallen on hard times at the sales of late, relatively speaking, but Brittany threw $100,000 at this guy, which matched the top price for any of his paternal brothers in North America. He has won both of his NJSS starts for Scott Zeron and trainer Tony Alagna, in dominant fashion. On Pace Day he came first over to win in 1:52.3 at odds of 3/5 at the Meadowlands. Western Ideal has given us the outstanding performers and game changing sires Rocknroll Hanover and American Ideal, as well as Always A Virgin and Big Jim. His 2013 crop moves on to the slugfest that is the PASS next year.
Stacia Hanover, the winner of the $100,000 NJSS final for freshman pacing fillies, is also by Western Ideal. The $35,000 Harness Breeders purchase is trained by veteran Steve Elliott and, like Artspeak, driven by Scott Zeron. She has two other wins in the restricted class, aside from the high-dollar final which she won in 1:53.4 at odds of 3/5.
Yankee Bounty is a two-year-old gelding by the enigmatic Artiscape stallion, Yankee Cruiser. His dam is the Allamerican Native mare Yankee Bootleg. This isn’t a combination that screams early speed. Yes, Yankee Cruiser did give is the current king of the pacing ranks, Sweet Lou, who held world records at two and three, as well as the rejuvenated speed demon Dancin Yankee, but for the most part this stallion was up against it in Pennsylvania. Yankee Bounty, a $21,000 Harness Breeders purchase, has won both of his starts in impressive fashion. He won splits of the Pennsylvania All Stars and the Albatross for Corey Callahan and trainer Kevin Lane. Yankee Cruiser stands his first year in Ohio in 2014.
Bob Ben And John is one of the wave of impressive colts from the first crop of 2009 two-year-old division champ Sportswriter. Casie Coleman, who trained the son of Artsplace, and has been the leading cheerleader for his initial offering, plucked him from the Lexington sale for a modest $17,000. His dam is the Cambest mare, My Best Girl. This colt made his first pari-mutuel start last week in a $70,000 OSS-Gold leg at Mohawk. He was an easy winner by three in 1:53 at odds of 2/1 for Chris Christoforou. Sportswriter is absolutely killing it in the freshman pacing division of the Ontario Sire Stakes; he’s taking all the air; none of the others are on the same planet. SBSW shook the Pennsylvania program to its foundation with his first crop, but what’s happening with Sportswriter in his restricted program may be more dramatic. Shadow Play impressed us last year with his first crop, but he hasn’t gone on to be a factor in the open realm with his sophomores. We’ll wait and see if Sporty, a key player from the stressed Adios line, makes his presence felt outside of Ontario.
Sassa Hanover is a filly from the first crop of Rock N Roll Heaven. Ron Burke bought her at Lexington for $50,000. Sassa’s dam, Sayo Hanover, is half to the very fast Shadyshark Hanover. Jim Morrill drover her to an easy two length win in a NYSS race at Monticello on the July 4. She won in 1:56.3 with plenty to spare. And two of her paternal sisters—She’s Heavenly and Band Of Angels—also won top dollar splits of the sire stakes that day. Heaven was held in high esteem at the sales, and thus far he is fulfilling his promise.
Dragon Eddy is a two-year-old gelding—aren’t they all—by Dragon Again, a stallion known more for throwing rugged long lasting types like Foiled Again, Atochia and Aracache Hanover than he is as a sire of early speed. My Little Dragon won her division at two, but she was an exception. Well, Eddy is something of an outlier himself. He brought $42,000 at Lexington, which is on the pricey side for Dragon Again, who now stands in Ohio. John Buttenschoen trains and Mike Simons drives. At the end of June Eddy won a split of the Pennsylvania All Starts in 1:54.3 at Pocono, and he went on to win a division of the Albatross in an eye opening 1:52.4 at odds of 2/5 at the Meadows on July 8.
Mission Brief is a brown Muscle Hill filly who opened a lot of eyes when she took her $100,000 final of the NJSS by 13 lengths in 1:53.3 for Yanick Gingras and Ron Burke. This was an improvement on her previous start, where she only won by ten. Her dam Southwind Serena is by the great trotter Varenne. Mission Brief was a $150,000 Lexington purchase. Look out!
The Bank is a Donato Hanover colt out of 2008 three-year-old division winner, Lantern Kronos. He won a split of the Pennsylvania All Stars for Jimmy Takter on July 4th and broke stride while leading on the last turn as the 1/9 favorite in a division of the Hickory Pride at The Meadows this week. Again, Takter drove.
Uncle Lasse, a full brother to Shake It Cerry and Solvato, is another very promising Donato colt in the Takter Barn. He also won on July 4. Yesterday he was beaten in a quick 1:56.3 split of the Hickory Pride by the Cantab Hall colt Billy Flynn, driven to perfection by Brett Miller. Possess The Will and Your So Vain notwithstanding, Donato has pretty much been all filly no colt to this point. If this pair is turned over to Gingras or Pierce they could change that in a hurry.
Honor And Serve, a Donato colt out of 2008 freshman division winner and world record holder Honorable Daughter, is another who might turn the tide. He just took a split of the Hickory Pride for Dave Palone and Jim Campbell.
Royal Deceptor is one of numerous offspring of the New York stallion RC Royalty that sold at the Morrisville sale. The success of last year’s Hambletonion winner, Royalty For Life, inspired many to look favorably upon the eleven-year-old siring son of Credit Winner. Cheryl and Michael McGivern took this brown colt home for $11,000. Royal Deceptor won all three of his qualifiers, then went out and won a split of the NYSS in a track record 1:59.3 at Buffalo Raceway for Michael McGivern.
Gatka is a big, rugged filly from the first crop of seven-year-old Hambletonion winner Muscle Massive, whose big brother Muscle Mass met with success in Ontario and has since been relocated to New York. Gatka is a sister to Ake Svanstedt’s Muscle Hill filly Heaven’s Door, who won the $100,000 NJSS sophomore final and finished second behind Shake It Cerry in the Del Miller. She won a division of the PA All Stars at The Meadows in 1:56 at 2/5 and last week she took a split of the Meadow Gladys with ease in 1:57.1 at 1/5.
Billy Flynn, a $120,000 Lexington purchase by Steffan Lind, is by Cantab Hall, arguably the best trotting stallion in North America. Another brown colt—there seems to be a run on them—he is out of the Enjoy Lavec mare Zeta Jones and was bred by Brittany farms. Billy took a split of the PA All Stars by six lengths in 1:57.2 at Pocono earlier this month and he beat the highly regarded Centurion ATM and Uncle Lasse in a division of the Hickory Pride. Brett Miller drives.
Wild Honey is proving to be a $35,000 bargain for Jimmy Takter. The daughter of Cantab Hall was a close second to Gatka Hanover in that one’s first start and, like Gatka, won a split of the Meadow Gladys at The Meadows, for Yanick Gingras.