Yonkers, NY — Entering the 2018 edition of the Yonkers International Trot, Cruzado Dela Noche hadn’t started in a pari-mutuel race in four months and hadn’t won a major stakes race since capturing the Group 1 Copenhagen Cup in May 2017. Predictably, bettors dismissed the 6-year-old Muscle Massive son at 30-1 odds in the $1 million stakes.
However, off two qualifying wins for trainer Marcus Melander and picking up Brian Sears, Cruzado Dela Noche worked out a brilliant trip in the 1-1/4 mile stakes, tracking Lionel’s first-over assault on leader Marion Marauder. With the plugs pulled and the whip on the trotter’s tail, Sears angled Cruzado Dela Noche three-wide with five-sixteenths of a mile to trot and joining Marion Marauder and Lionel, made it a three-across battle entering the final turn.
Lionel put away Marion Marauder as he straightened into the lane and with Cruzado Dela Noche losing ground around the fifth bend, appeared to be on his way to International Trot glory. However, Sears went to the right-handed stick in the stretch and his trotter re-engaged. As Lionel reached for the wire, Cruzado Dela Noche lunged, nailing his rival in the shadow of the finish post.
One year later, the enormity of a Yonkers International Trot victory sticks with Sabine Kagebrandt, Managing Director of Cruzado Dela Noche’s ownership company Stall Courant Ab.
“That brought us so much joy,” she said. “That meant a lot to us and it meant a lot to me because that horse brings us so much joy and he’s a really good horse and he has a really big heart. That he can take that win and show that he is an international horse, that’s the main thing. He had some wins in big races in other countries, but then he had one in America.
“To win that big race under those conditions, it’s not so easy to go that many turns at Yonkers. It’s more money than the Prix d’Amérique, so it was a really big win for us and it was a big win for the horse. It means a lot, it’s a very big race to win, so we were so happy for that.”
Cruzado Dela Noche’s Yonkers International Trot victory joined the Copenhagen Cup and Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Deutschland on the trotter’s resume, improved his record to 15-for-55, and boosted his earnings to $1,202,771. It was also the biggest win in Melander’s training career, which began in 2014 after he relocated from his native Sweden. The 27-year-old conditioner’s rapid rise to the top of the sport goes hand-in-hand with his partnership with Courant.
“We love to be part of that. We’re so glad that he can make all that success,” Kagebrandt said. “I have known Marcus since he was a child and we have followed his move here to America. I think we were the first big owners that put horses in his stable. It started with one or two horses and then we started with more and expensive horses. We have always had a good faith in him. He has that kind of mission like we have, so we feel like it’s a good match.
“We have the same view, how he should train and take care of the horses. We are very much involved also, talking about the training and where we should race. Of course, he’s the one who’s in charge, but he shares that information with us and we feel that we are part of it. That’s how we like it. We really love to work with Marcus. That’s really beautiful, I think.”
Like Melander, Kagebrandt’s career is on the rise. Over the past year, Kagebrandt’s role at Courant evolved from doing the daily accounting and taking care of horses in the owner’s Swedish stable to managing the company’s budget and finances, selecting yearlings, and working alongside owner Anders Ström. A far cry from her initial aspirations of becoming a trainer, Kagebrandt appreciates the rarity of occupying such a role in a harness racing stable.
“It’s really nice to work with Anders, we work really good together,” Kagebrandt said. “I really enjoy it. I travel all around the world to do what I love. I love my job. It’s beautiful. This kind of job, there are not so many jobs out there that are like mine.”
Following his International Trot win, Cruzado Dela Noche finished sixth in the Breeders Crown Open Trot at Pocono and seventh in the TVG Free For All Trot at The Meadowlands.
After a winter break, he returned this May to win the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at the Big M. Cruzado Dela Noche topped 11 rivals in the nine-furlong stakes to take the winner’s share of the $175,000 purse.
Although he’s placed in another two stakes in six other seasonal starts, Cruzado Dela Noche hasn’t found the winner’s circle since the Cutler. He often comes from off the pace, but tends to run out of ground going the standard mile distance in America and Canada.
“I think he’s been really, really great. He’s one year older, but he still gives his best. He gets home really fast every time,” Kagebrandt said. “He goes really, really good every time, so we’re really happy with him.”
Cruzado Dela Noche only failed to earn a check once this season when he finished last of six, beaten 14-1/2 lengths in an elimination of the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk Aug. 24. Although he made a long first-over move in that start, Cruzado Dela Noche tired in the final three furlongs, uncharacteristic of his typically strong final quarters.
“He didn’t like the shipping and he was not to be recognized. He wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t himself, that’s for sure,” Kagebrandt explained. “After that, he got some medication and he got to rest for two weeks to recover. He’s been training at home. Marcus and Mikaela (Melander), they have been really happy with him. He has been strong again and really happy and he’s doing his work really good.”
After regrouping at Melander’s New Egypt, N.J. stable, Cruzado Dela Noche prepared to defend his Yonkers International Trot title with a 1:55.2 qualifying win at Harrah’s Philadelphia Oct. 1. Racing 10 lengths off the pace in third at the half, Cruzado Dela Noche moved on the outside and kicked away with a :28.4 final panel to score by 4-1/2 lengths.
Returning to represent Sweden in the Yonkers International Trot, Kagebrandt is confident. She feels the added distance is ideal for the 7-year-old trotter.
“He doesn’t have that kind of speed like Greenshoe, but he can go another lap,” she said. “I’m really hopeful for the International because it’s his distance. He’s so much better at longer distances and he’s shown that in Europe as well. That’s why I’m hopeful because now he finally gets a longer race and that’s what he’s best at.”
Cruzado Dela Noche and Brian Sears drew post seven in this year’s International, one slot outside his starting position last year and one slot inside of returning rival and last year’s runner-up Lionel of Norway. Denmark’s Slide So Easy also competed last year and returns; he drew post one.
The new faces in this year’s edition are 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta, who will represent the United States from post three. Guardian Angel As will also represent the United States and will start from the second tier in post nine. Marion Marauder will make his third appearance in the International representing Canada. European sensations Bahia Quesnot (France, post two), Uza Josselyn (Switzerland, post four), Zacon Gio (Italy, post five), and Norton Commander (Germany, post 10) complete the field.
“It is tougher. They have a really good field. They did last year, but this is tougher than last year, absolutely,” Kagebrandt said. “The class of this year’s International is really good. It’s good for the race, it’s good for everybody.
“We have great respect for our opponents. This year, Atlanta and Guardian Angel As should probably be seen as favorites. Among the Europeans, Uza Josselyn is super quick and Zacon Gio also comes with great reputation. They also have good post positions. We need racing luck to beat those horses for sure. But we have the best driver and a horse with a heart of gold.”
Cruzado Dela Noche would join Su Mac Lad (1961, 1963), Roquepine (1967, 1968), Une de Mai (1969, 1971), Delmonica Hanover (1973, 1974), Ideal du Gazeau (1981, 1982, 1983), and Lutin d’Isigny (1984, 1985) as a repeat winner of the International should he prove victorious Saturday afternoon.
“It would mean a lot, especially with ‘Cruzado’ because we know he’s a really good horse,” Kagebrandt said. “It’s really hard for him to win races here. When he cannot open from the start, he always gets a bad trip. He really needs this win so people understand that he’s a great horse. It’s really hard competition, but I’m not worried. I think he’ll be in good shape.”
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 1-1/4 mile Harry Harvey Trot and Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here.
Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m.