CAMPBELLVILLE, March 30 – Spring has arrived and the countdown is on to the 34th Pepsi North America Cup on Saturday, June 17 at Mohawk Racetrack.
The finest three-year-old pacers in North America will battle for the winner’s share of $1 million. The Pepsi North America Cup is Canada’s richest harness race.
Mark McKelvie of the WEG Media Department is back with his third annual “Road to the NA Cup”. McKelvie tracks all the eligible horses and prepares his Top 10.
This first installment includes McKelvie’s Top 10 heading into this season and a full list of statistics and background for each eligible horse.
Following the first sustaining payment (March 15), 56 three-year-old pacers are eligible for the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup.
Mark McKelvie’s Road to the NA Cup – March 30
The winter months can drag on, especially in harness racing.
Once stakes season comes to a close, anticipation begins to build for next season and we are left with months of time to fill waiting and debating what could be in store for the upcoming campaign.
This winter didn’t seem to drag for some reason. Maybe it was the decent weather conditions we had in the Toronto area. Who knows? But one thing that remained the same about every winter in harness racing…anticipation has been building.
Last season we saw a pair of two-year-olds dazzle and wow us on multiple occasions. If you don’t already know these names, I will assume you were living under a rock last year…Huntsville and Downbytheseaside.
These two pacing colts developed a rivalry last season that media members dream about. Nothing is more blah than a three-year-old group that doesn’t have a “sexy” horse.
Lucky for us, this year we’ve got two!
Huntsville is trained by Ray Schnittker, while Brian Brown trains Downbytheseaside. Both colts are sired by the great Somebeachsomewhere and their paths to this point have been very similar.
– Both started their careers by battling in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes
– Both raced twice in Lexington
– Both raced in the Breeders Crown and Governor’s Cup
– Both set or equaled World Records at two
– Both made north of $500,000
Huntsville finished his season with 11 starts, while Downbytheseaside finished with 13.
The two colts raced head-to-head five-times, with Huntsville winning three and Downbytheseaside winning twice.
The two standouts split the final two major events of the season (Breeders Crown and Governor’s Cup) by finishing one-two in each, setting the stage for what should be an exciting three-year-old season.
Huntsville won the PASS Championship, Bluegrass, International Stallion Stakes and Breeders Crown final.
Downbytheseaside won the Standardbred, Bluegrass, International Stallion Stakes and Governor’s Cup.
Huntsville equaled the World Record of 1:49 on October 8th at The Red Mile.
Downbytheseaside equaled that World Record just three-races later on October 8th at The Red Mile. He also set a new World Record of 1:50 on September 18th at the Delaware County Fairgrounds.
When coming up with my Top 10 list for this year’s Pepsi North America Cup it was a no-brainer which horses would be One-Two…
As for the rest of my list…it’s as clear as mud.
Usually you can breakdown the eligible horses into tiers and come up with a Top 10, but after the two standout colts, the next tier has about 20 colts and geldings that are all very similar.
This next group includes horses that stepped up at the right moment, were consistently in the mix, showed some promise late, showed some promise early or are hunch plays.
Decisions have been made. Am I confident about my Top 10? Yes and No!
Yes – The horses on the list are all deserving and could be players. No – I think only two of the 10 are locks to be in the NA Cup, that’s how wide open the second-tier below the elite pair is. Here we go.
Road to the NA Cup – Top 10
1 – Huntsville (Trainer: Ray Schnittker) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 11 – 1st: 7 – 2nd: 4 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $720,234 – Time: 1:49 (The Red Mile)
You can’t go wrong with either of the top two colts as your number one and while flipping a coin would’ve been easy, I decided the head-to-head meetings would make my decision. Huntsville beat Downbytheseaside three to two in their two-year-old meetings. The Schnittker trainee also had the highest earnings among two-year-olds and won the Dan Patch Award. This colt is a beast. Only once in 11 starts did he pace a final-quarter slower than :27.4. Tim Tetrick is his driver and he’s won two of the last four NA Cups.
2 – Downbytheseaside (Trainer: Brian Brown) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 13 – 1st: 8 – 2nd: 3 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $644,706 – Time: 1:49 (The Red Mile)
His two-year-old season was outstanding and he finished it off in style with a dominant victory over his arch-rival in the Governor’s Cup. That was his only start in Canada, so we know he likes the northern air. He has a pair of World Records to his name and you can’t go wrong by backing this colt as your Cup favourite.
3 – Fear The Dragon (Trainer: Brian Brown) – Sire: Dragon Again
Starts: 11 – 1st: 5 – 2nd : 3 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $228,391 – Time: 1:50.3 (Meadows)
Brian Brown has to be really excited heading into this season. He’s got multiple three-year-olds that could do some major damage. Had it not been for Downbytheseaside, Fear The Dragon might’ve received more buzz. This bay colt only missed the board once in 11 outings and showed he has got some serious grit. He is a big player in Pennsylvania and does hold the distinction of a victory over Huntsville. The Brown barn is loaded heading into stakes season with these two colts…but here’s another Brown trainee to watch out for…Major Moe.
4 – Beyond Delight (Trainer: Tony O’Sullivan) – Sire: Bettors Delight
Starts: 11 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 3 – Earnings: $423,305 – Time: 1:51 (Mohawk)
The Metro Pace is the big dance for two-year-old pacers and Beyond Delight used it as his launching pad to notoriety. The Tony O’Sullivan trainee was winless in seven starts before he won his Metro elimination. He followed that up with an impressive win in the Metro final, which was followed by a win in the Champlain. From winless in seven to the top of the class. The O’Sullivan trainee made only one more start after the Champlain and finished eighth against a field of older rivals. The jury is out on Beyond Delight. I’m not sure what to expect. But he put together a fantastic three-week stretch and Metro Pace winners have gone on to greatness. It’s wait and see, but with the numbers and performances he displayed in big races, Beyond Delight has to be a main contender.
5 – Miso Fast (Ron Burke) – Sire: Roll With Joe
Starts: 13 – 1st: 5 – 2nd: 3 – 3rd: 1 – Earnings: $255,806 – Time: 1:53.1 (Tioga)
The Ron Burke barn is always in the mix and this New York Sires Stakes star could be ready to make some serious noise in 2017. Miso Fast made his first eight starts in NYSS action and picked up four wins. He also finished second in the NYSS Championship. After Sires Stakes action, his foray into Grand Circuit events was encouraging. He picked up a pair of cheques in Lexington and finished third in the Breeders Crown Final behind my #1 and #2. A stretch break in the Governor’s Cup cost him some dough, but I doubt there is much to read into that. I’ve been watching this colt closely since I saw him win in person at Buffalo last July. Burke always has a major player and this might be the one.
6 – Blood Line (Trainer: Jimmy Takter) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 12 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 2 – 3rd: 1 – Earnings: $130,613 – Time: 1:51.3 (Pocono)
The saying goes that you have to be “in it to win it” and Blood Line was in all the major dances last season. The Jimmy Takter trainee competed in the finals of the Metro Pace, Breeders Crown and Governor’s Cup, while also racing in several other marquee Grand Circuit events. He picked up two victories during his rookie season, including a five-length romp in a division of the Bluegrass. You can never overlook a Takter horse and this bay colt knows how to be in the mix.
7 – Normandy Beach (Trainer: Ron Burke) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 12 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 5 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $160,369 – Time: 1:52.1 (Meadows)
– The second Burke trainee on my list, Normandy Beach, proved he is a contender after taking a crack in Grand Circuit action following the PASS Championship. The bay colt was always a top finisher outside of two starts in September, as he picked up a cheque in 10 of 12 starts. He finished his season with a pair of seconds in Grand Circuit events at The Red Mile and a fourth-place finish in the Breeders Crown. Finishing up strong was a theme for this colt, as he paced home in :27.4 or faster in 10 of 12 starts.
8 – Darlings Dragon (Marie Dupont) – Sire: Dragon Again
Starts: 7 – 1st: 1 – 2nd: 5 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $196,112 – Time: 1:52.3 (Mohawk)
Here is an intriguing horse that I knew I wanted on my list. Darlings Dragon finished second in last year’s Metro Pace, which was his final start of the season. The Marie Dupont trainee made seven starts total and finished in the runner-up spot five-times. All of his starts were made at Mohawk. The flash of potential really started to show when he finished second by a nose in the Nassagaweya. Darlings Dragon then finished fourth in the Metro elimination, before turning in an outstanding effort in the final. It appears his connections had a plan and to finish on a high note wasn’t a bad idea. Will he be the contender I think he is? Time will tell. But I always like the horses flying under the radar.
9 – Ideal Wheel (Trainer: Casie Coleman) – Sire: American Ideal
Starts: 6 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 1 – Earnings: $157,505 – Time: 1:51.4 (Mohawk)
If the Pepsi North America Cup was a six-furlong race, Ideal Wheel would win. The Casie Coleman trainee won a division of the Champlain Stakes in unorthodox fashion. He posted fractions of :27.3, :54.1 and 1:20.3 to lead by 10-lengths turning for home. A :31.1 final-quarter got the job done. It was unique. But in seriousness this horse did a lot right in six starts as a rookie. He won three, he finished third in the Metro Pace final and never finished worse than fourth. Coleman won this race last year and you know she’ll have this guy pointed for mid-June.
10 – Streakavana (Scott McEneny) – Sire: Big Jim
Starts: 7 – 1st: 4 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $187,750 – Time: 1:52.2 (Mohawk)
So many horses could’ve been on this list, but I opt to go the local route for my final horse. What’s not to like about Streakavana? The Scott McEneny trainee won four of seven starts as a rookie, with three of those coming in Ontario Sires Stakes Gold action. OSS horses seem to regularly make the NA Cup final and I’ll be looking at this colt to be the head of the class in Ontario.
Here is a list of all the NA Cup eligible horses and their resumes at this moment: NA Cup Horses March 15.pdf
Watch Out For:
Air Strike (Joe Holloway) – Sire: Always A Virgin
Starts: 8 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 2 – 3rd: 1 – Earnings: $132,664 – Time: 1:51.4 (Hoosier)
– Won the Kindergarten Final in a Dead-Heat in November. Won an ISS Final on August 25. Finished 5th in the Governor’s Cup
Dragnet Alert (Chris Oakes) – Sire: Dragon Again
Starts: 8 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 3 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $79,496 – Time: 1:49.2 (The Red Mile)
– Won a division of the International Stallion Stake at The Red Mile in 1:49.2. Won a division of the Keystone Classic at The Meadows in October. Made five starts for his new connections after being purchased privately in July (two wins, two seconds and a fourth).
Eddard Hanover (Ron Burke) – Sire: Dragon Again
Starts: 12 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 2 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $119,941 – Time: 1:52 (Meadows)
– Won three of his last five starts to finish 2016. Scored victories in the Madison at Hoosier, Keystone Classic at The Meadows and Liberty Bell at Philadelphia. Only missed a cheque once in 12 starts.
Filibuster Hanover (Ron Burke) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 13 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $130,214 – Time: 1:52 (Meadows)
– Won a division of the PA All-Stars and Arden Downs. Finished 3rd in the Governor’s Cup at Woodbine. Only finished outside of the Top-5 twice in 13 starts.
Ocean Colony (Jimmy Takter) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 10 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 2 – Earnings: $119,144 – Time: 1:50.1 (Mohawk)
– Won his elimination of the Metro Pace in 1:50.1, the fastest mile by a 2YO in Canada during 2016. Won a division of the Geers at Tioga. Hit the board in the Elevation, Bluegrass and Breeders Crown elimination.
R J P (Erv Miller) – Sire: Somebeachsomewhere
Starts: 10 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 3 – 3rd: 3 – Earnings: $102,751 – Time: 1:51.2 (The Red Mile)
– Won a division of the Bluegrass and the PASS consolation. Finished 2nd in a division of the Geers and the Metro Pace consolation. Hit the board in a pair of PASS divisions and the International Stallion Stake.
Sports Column (Blake MacIntosh) – Sire: Sportswriter
Starts: 6 – 1st: 4 – 2nd: 2 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $222,000 – Time: 1:52.1 (Mohawk)
– Won the Battle of Waterloo elimination and final. Also scored victories in a pair of OSS Gold events. Did not make another start after August 11th. Won his final three starts of the season.
Stealth Bomber (Tony O’Sullivan) – Sire: Rocknroll Hanover
2017 Starts: 2 – 1st: 2 – 2nd: 0 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $14,000 – Time: 1:53 (Woodbine)
– Did not race as a two-year-old. Competed in two qualifiers during January and February before winning his career debut on February 16th at Woodbine. Followed up his debut win with another victory on March 9th at Woodbine.
Talbot Romeo (John Pentland) – Sire: Roll With Joe
2017 Starts: 4 – 1st: 3 – 2nd: 0 – 3rd: 0 – Earnings: $23,200 – Time: 1:52.3 (Woodbine)
– Baby Raced in July at Mohawk, but did not make a start as a two-year-old. Finished 5th in his career debut on January 9th and has followed that up with three consecutive victories at Woodbine, including a 1:52.3 romp in an N/W of 3 event.
Western Hill (Tony Alagna) – Sire: Western Ideal
Starts: 10 – 1st: 4 – 2nd: 1 – 3rd: 1 – Earnings: $81,814 – Time: 1:52.4 (Meadows)
– Finished 2nd in his career debut and then proceeded to win four-races in a row. Three of his four wins came in the PA Stallion Series, including a victory in the Stallion Series Final. Finished 3rd in the Bluegrass, 4th in the International Stallion Stake and 4th in the Matron.