Hightstown, NJ — Eddie Dennis usually remains quiet when watching his horses compete. But as Hellabalou charged down the stretch on his way to an 81-1 upset in his Meadowlands Pace elimination last Saturday, the trainer made an exception.
“I don’t ever holler for a horse, but I hollered for him the other night,” Dennis said with a laugh. “It was a nice treat. We thought we could make the final. We didn’t realize we might maybe have that big of a shot to win.
“He just responded. That’s him. If he’s in that position and he’s healthy and everything is going his way, he responds. He likes to pass horses when he’s on his game. He knows what that’s all about.”
Hellabalou, who left the gate quickly from post seven with driver Andy McCarthy and got a pocket trip behind favorite One Eight Hundred, came home with a :25.4 last quarter-mile to win by a half-length over Charlie May. His time was a career-best 1:49.2 over a sloppy track at The Meadowlands and propelled Dennis and owner Eric Good into the Meadowlands Pace final in their first appearance in the event.
“He had an issue with his breathing last year and we shut him down and got it fixed,” Dennis said. “He’s been good ever since. He’s a good little horse, he really is. I think he’s getting better and better. He’s getting tighter and more used to these kinds of miles. He tries the whole time.”
Hellabalou, who has won three of eight races this season and $93,886 in purses lifetime, will start Saturday’s $700,000 Meadowlands Pace final from post two. He is 8-1 on the morning line. Southwind Gendry, who won the second elimination, is the 3-1 favorite for trainer Ron Burke.
“It’ll be something I take in probably a little more than I did the other night,” said the 53-year-old Dennis, who trains a stable of 14 horses, about going to the final. “I’ll just feel a little bit different walking into the paddock this time. To win an elimination of the Meadowlands Pace, that’s a pretty good achievement for a little guy like me. They can’t take it away from me.”
Dennis is one of four trainers making their first appearance in the Meadowlands Pace. The others are Steve Carter with Charlie May, Scott Cox with Chase H Hanover, and Travis Alexander with American Courage.
Charlie May, a homebred owned by Don Tiger, was Ohio’s 2-year-old male pacer of the year in 2020. He has won nine of 17 career races and finished worse than second only twice, banking $516,127. Tiger also is making his first appearance in the Pace.
“I’m 1-for-1,” Carter said with a laugh about reaching the Meadowlands Pace final. “I don’t know if I’ll get to two. I doubt I’ll ever be back. But you never know. You’re always looking for the next horse. But this feels great, especially because I think I’ve got a chance to win it.”
In his elimination, Charlie May came first over on the last turn and overtook leader One Eight Hundred in the stretch but was unable to fend off Hellabalou’s surge. He will start the final from post nine and is 5-1 on the morning line.
“We’re going to need some racing luck,” Carter said, adding with a laugh, “I’m hoping for a lot of speed, and (Charlie May) not being in it.
“He’s elevated his game, taken it to another level, the last couple weeks. He put a big effort out last time. A big effort. There’s not a lot of pressure. I guess there’s pressure to keep him physically in shape and in top form, but racing is going to be racing. Whatever happens is out of my control.”
Chase H Hanover finished third behind Hellabalou and Charlie May in the first elimination. He was beaten by 1-3/4 lengths. Cox owns the gelding with Jason Ash, who also is making his first trip to the Meadowlands Pace.
“We bought this one and he ended up being pretty good, so we put out some money to stake him this year,” said Cox, who like Carter hails from Ohio and operates a small stable. “It feels great. I’ve watched this race for a lot of years, but to be associated with it, you don’t really know how big it is (until you’re in it). I’m glad we’re in it.”
Chase H Hanover has won five of 17 career races and hit the board a total of 14 times. He has earned $326,885. He finished second to Southwind Gendry in last year’s Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship.
“I just try to have him ready,” Cox said. “If we can have the horse ready, then maybe everything will work out and it will be our day.
“This is the first stretch he’s raced week after week. That’s kind of how we set it up because I knew we had this stretch coming up with the Messenger (earlier this month) and Meadowlands Pace and then the Adios. But it seems he may be getting better that way. I just hope to go out and perform well. One of these days will be his day.”
American Courage, who won the Messenger Stakes, finished fourth in the elimination won by Southwind Gendry. For his career, the colt has captured 11 of 13 starts and earned $472,633. He is a homebred for owner Fiddler’s Creek Stables, led by Mark Wasserman. Fiddler’s Creek also is in the first-time Pace group.
“It’s every kid’s dream,” Alexander said about making the Pace final. “You always dream of being in the Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian, Breeders Crown. It’s a big deal. And it’s nice because I think we have a chance. That makes it even better.”
American Courage starts from post 10 in the 10-horse field and is 10-1 on the morning line.
“At least we have our nose on the gate,” Alexander said. “The 10 hole is no fun, but somebody had to draw it. You have to stare adversity in the face sometimes. We’ll give it a go.
“I made some changes last week that he did not like, and I’m going to change back. He still paced his back half in :52 and change and he wasn’t a hundred percent the way we would like him. I think he will be a little better on Saturday. Racing for $700,000, we’re going to have to be.”
Post time on Meadowlands Pace Night will be earlier than usual as the first race will get underway at 6 p.m. (EDT). The Meadowlands Pace and several other stakes will be part of a live two-hour telecast on Fox Sports 2 beginning at 8 p.m.
Following is the draw for the $700,000 Meadowlands Pace final.
1. Perfect Sting (David Miller, Joe Holloway), 7-2
2. Hellabalou (Andrew McCarthy, Eddie Dennis), 8-1
3. Chase H Hanover (Brian Sears, Scott Cox), 15-1
4. Southwind Gendry (Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke), 3-1
5. Lawless Shadow (Mark MacDonald, Ian Moore), 10-1
6. Rockyroad Hanover (Dexter Dunn, Tony Alagna), 15-1
7. One Eight Hundred (Tim Tetrick, Nancy Takter), 9-2
8. Abuckabett Hanover (Andrew McCarthy, Tony Alagna), 15-1
9. Charlie May (Brett Miller, Steve Carter), 5-1
10. American Courage (Matt Kakaley, Travis Alexander), 10-1