Yonkers, NY — Junior Guelpa has traveled to New York City in the past, but his next trip to the Big Apple will be nothing like his previous visits. The French trainer and driver will bring trotting mare Bahia Quesnot across the Atlantic to compete in the Yonkers International Trot. The $1 million stakes, slated for Saturday (Oct. 12), will be Guelpa’s first time competing in the United States.
“I want to see the Statue of Liberty again,” Guelpa said with a laugh last Saturday at Hippodrome de Vincennes. “No, seriously, it’s a privilege to be able to participate in such a big race in the United States.
“I have never had a chance to drive there and I do not know Yonkers, but I went to the United States and to New York City on holidays, to take some rest. There, it will not be the same. But I can’t wait.”
Guelpa’s excitement about the trip ahead was bolstered by Bahia Quesnot’s second-place finish in the Group 2 European Trotting Masters Series final. Guelpa sent the 8-year-old straight to the lead at the start of the 2,700-meter stakes, beating Bold Eagle and Queer Fish to the top as the field exited the chute and joined the big track at the Paris racecourse.
Racing into the stretch the first time, Bold Eagle and Björn Goop glided up on the outside and took the lead, crossing over to the pylons in front of Bahia Quesnot. However, Mindyourvalue W.F. and Bel Avis ranged up on the outside and peeled away in a speed duel. Soon, Bahia Quesnot found herself four back along the pylons and pinned in.
Racing up the backstretch, Bahia Quesnot kept her nose pressed to Goop’s helmet and raced just to Propulsion’s inside. When the Swedish star tipped three-wide nearing the final turn, Guelpa yanked on the right line and slid out, looking to keep Bold Eagle jailed. However, as Queer Fish back peddled on the rim, Guelpa dove back to the pylons.
With Queer Fish fading, Bold Eagle slid out and Bahia Quesnot followed the champion’s move. Guelpa angled Bahia Quesnot four-wide into the lane outside of Propulsion and for the first time in the race, the driver became animated.
While rival Cleangame made a break in the final 200 meters, Propulsion inherited the lead, but Bahia Quesnot kept coming as her driver kept asking. Although Propulsion’s nose hit the finish first, Bahia Quesnot was just a head behind. She trotted out past the post well ahead of the field.
“Fantastic,” Guelpa exclaimed after the race. “Once again, she was great. She was the fastest horse in the race over three sections so it’s fantastic. She recovered so easily too. I turned around after the post, I went back to the clubhouse and by the time she headed to the stables, she was breathing normally. She’s amazing.”
By multiple Group 1 winner Scipion du Goutier out of the Install mare Queen Ines, Bahia Quesnot was bred by Alain Léon Lefebvre and is owned by Tahar Ait-Hamouda. Bahia Quesnot began her career in Cédric Herserant’s stable, winning six races including the Group 3 Grand National du Trot in 2016. However, after a 35-race losing streak, the mare found her way to Guelpa.
“I had befriended her owner during a trip to Norway, where we each had a horse to run. We met there and got along pretty well,” Guelpa said. “A few years later, the mare needed a change of scenery. That’s when she was sent to me.”
Bahia Quesnot made her first start for Guelpa in the Group 3 Grand Prix de Noel at Cagnes-sur-Mer Dec. 23, 2018. She won at first asking with her new conditioner in the sulky.
“I knew she was already very good because she had achieved great performances. At work, she quickly became very good too,” Guelpa said. “She won straight out at Cagnes-sur-Mer. She’s not that good in the winter, but I was lucky that she’s still improving.
“She has got her ways; she is a lady you know. But she is kind and endearing. The people who care for her are in love with her. My sister Paola and Christophe Ceccareli take care of her on a daily basis.”
Although Bahia Quesnot finished ninth second time out for Guelpa in the Prix Ourasi at Cagnes-sur-Mer Jan. 3, Guelpa entered the mare back in the Group 2 Grand Prix de Belgique at Vincennes 10 days later. She finished second in the “B” race, punching her ticket to the Grand Prix d’Amérique in the process.
Bahia Quesnot finished 10th in France’s biggest trotting race and after thirds in Group 1 company in the Grand Criterium de Vitesse Nice-Matin and Olympiatravet and a win in a Gold Division leg this spring, she took a shot in Elitloppet. Although she finished sixth in her Elitloppet elimination and didn’t advance to the final, Guelpa, who has 239 training victories since launching his career in 2012, was thankful to compete on such big stages.
“It is fantastic to already have a horse of her class in your stable for a little trainer like me,” he said. “It’s a privilege. She has allowed me to take part in the most beautiful races.”
Since Elitloppet, Bahia Quesnot has been the runner-up in five grouped stakes: the Oslo Grand Prix, the Grand Prix de la Ville de Cagnes-sur-Mer, the Prix Maharajah, the Grand Prix du Département des Alpes-Maritimes, and the European Trotting Masters Final. Although her earnings swelled to 878,346€ from 84 starts, making her the richest horse Guelpa has trained, the defeats can be disappointing.
“It’s frustrating, that’s for sure. But you know, the most important thing is that she continues to progress and repeat her best form,” Guelpa said. “I would prefer to be second six times rather than win once and not see her again. Sometimes, she didn’t miss by much, like the last time in Vincennes.”
Guelpa will bring Bahia Quesnot to New York to represent France in the World Cup of trotting, the 10-furlong Yonkers International Trot. After she endured long land-based travel across Europe, Guelpa is confident about the trans-Atlantic flight. He is also confident about Bahia Quesnot adapting to the half-mile track at Yonkers based on her performance on the five-eighths ovals in Sweden.
“The trip does not worry me because it will take less time to go to the United States than to go to Sweden. To race in Scandinavia, she had to stand 26 hours in a truck,” Guelpa said. “(The half-mile track) will not be a problem because she has shown that she is able to cope in Sweden. In addition, (the race) will be over a mile-and-a-quarter, so it will be perfect for her.”
Once extended an official invitation by the race office, Bahia Quesnot will join defending Yonkers International Trot winner and Swedish representative Cruzado Dela Noche and Hambletonian winner Atlanta, who will race for the United States, as confirmed starters for the storied stakes. The remaining invitees will be announced over the coming weeks.
Both Atlanta and Bahia Quesnot will vie to become the ninth mare to win the International. Bahia Quesnot looks to join 13 previous French winners of the International.
“It’s a great opportunity, a challenge and a reward,” Guelpa said. “There are many ways to look at things, but one thing is certain: it’s fantastic, especially since I just settled with my horses on the training center of Grosbois to try to improve my career again and this race could also help me to reach new heights.”
The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday (Oct. 12) at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace.
Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m.
— with additional reporting by Romain Porée