Hightstown, NJ — A little more than 50 years ago, Buck Owens cautioned country music listeners to beware a tall dark stranger. Decades later, the warning could apply to Saturday’s Meadowlands Pace.
Tall Dark Stranger, the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male pacer, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the $636,650 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-olds at The Meadowlands Racetrack. The colt, who won last week’s single elimination by a half-length over Captain Kirk in 1:48.1 over a “good” surface, starts from post five with Yannick Gingras driving for trainer Nancy Takter.
Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. Post time for the Meadowlands Pace, which is race nine on the stakes-filled card, is 9:55 p.m.
Tall Dark Stranger is undefeated in two races this season. He opened his campaign with a 1:47.4 win against older horses on June 27 at The Meadowlands. Over the previous five years, only seven 3-year-old pacers have won with faster miles.
“He’s a fast horse, but he’s not just fast,” Gingras said. “He’s a great horse. He can do anything you want, race him any way you decide to race him. He’s strong, he’s got a great gait, he’s got all the qualities. Those are the things that make the difference between a fast horse and a great horse.”
Tall Dark Stranger is a son of Bettor’s Delight out of Precocious Beauty. He is owned by Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor. Last year, the colt won eight of nine races, finished second in his loss, and earned $717,514. He will try to join Huntsville (2017), He’s Watching (2014) and Captaintreacherous (2013) as recent Dan Patch Award returnees to win the Pace.
“He’s come back great,” Gingras said. “I couldn’t be any happier, really. His first start he was vicious and the same thing again last week. I don’t think he could be coming into the final in better shape.
“Last year at times he could be a little bit grabby. He knew really early on what his job was to do, but sometimes he wanted to do a little bit too much. He’s a little more manageable this year. If anything, he’s a little bit lazy. Leaving the gate last week, in a good way, I had to ask him. He knows what he’s out there to do and that it’s my job to guide him and he’s letting me do my job.”
Tall Dark Stranger was guaranteed a starting spot in posts one through six by virtue of his elimination win.
“For me, I’ve always felt it’s tremendously important to try to win the elimination,” Gingras said. “Of course, you don’t want to overuse your horse, but I have no problem racing my horse to take the outside posts out of the equation. I feel there is great value to it. These horses can go those miles. He left pretty good last week, but I got a decent middle half and then sprinted home. I don’t think he will be worse for wear after that last start.
“I like where I drew. You can see what happens. Of course, you’ve got to go forward. Everybody knows I’m not going to back out of the gate, you’re not getting away seventh or eighth in this race, with Tall Dark Stranger that’s not happening. You’re going forward out of the gate, but you have options. You can see what the outside horses are doing, you can see what the inside horses are doing, and I can race any which way. Post five gives me all the options in the world.”
Gingras is looking for his second Meadowlands Pace victory. He won with A Rocknroll Dance in 2012. Takter is seeking her first Pace trophy.
Last year’s Matron Stakes and Governor’s Cup winner Papi Rob Hanover, with David Miller driving for trainer Brett Pelling, is the 4-1 second choice on the Meadowlands Pace morning line. Papi Rob Hanover starts from post nine, which is his most favorable starting spot yet this season. He finished third from post 10 in the Pace elim and was second from post 10 in his seasonal debut.
Allywag Hanover, also from the Pelling Stable, is the 9-2 third choice. Allywag Hanover advanced to the Pace final courtesy of a bye based on seasonal earnings. Allywag Hanover is 3-for-3 this year and won in 1:48 on July 4 at The Meadowlands.
Pelling is the winningest trainer in Pace history, with four victories. Tim Tetrick will drive Allywag Hanover and is looking for his sixth Pace win. John Campbell holds the record with seven.
Trainer Tony Alagna, who won the 2013 Meadowlands Pace with Captaintreacherous, has three horses in Saturday’s final: Captain Barbossa (10-1), Capt Midnight (15-1), and Captain Kirk (15-1). Capt Midnight finished ninth in the elimination, from which the top eight horses advanced to the final, but drew into the race when Chief Mate was scratched on Tuesday.
In addition to the Meadowlands Pace, Saturday’s racing includes two $142,250 divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial for 3-year-old male trotters, the 11-horse $253,500 Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old female trotters, the 13-horse $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity at 1-1/8 miles for 4-year-old trotters, the 11-horse $391,300 William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers (as well as a $123,100 consolation), $172,850 Dorothy Haughton Memorial for older female pacers, the 11-horse $194,400 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, and the third leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters.
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