Trenton, NJ — Trainers sometimes deal with several emotions entering a big race. For Andrew Harris, however, envy is not one of them as he prepares Sky Castles for Saturday’s $251,460 Kindergarten Classic Series championship for 2-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands.
“I think he fits right in there; I wouldn’t trade him this week for any of them, that’s for sure,” Harris said. “He’s coming to it at the right time. There’s some tough horses in there but right now, the way he’s going, I think he’s the top one in there.”
Bred and owned by Bob Key, Sky Castles (Conway Hall-Sand Piper) has four firsts, a second and three thirds in 12 starts and has earned $111,470. The colt has shifted gears since Harris began training him in mid-September, winning three in a row since an off-the-board finish in his debut for his new barn. Much of that has to do with getting away from the New York half-mile tracks. Sky Castles is 4-for-5 on tracks larger than a half.
“I think just getting off the half and onto the bigger track has been a huge help,” Harris said. “We’ve changed his shoes, we’ve changed his gear. We’ve actually changed quite a few things in terms of his routine and stuff like that. But personally, I think the biggest asset we’ve had is going back to a bigger track. Since we’ve taken him to the big track, he doesn’t run in. He can just free flow a lot easier.”
Harris was unsure what he was dealing with when he first began working with the horse.
“I didn’t know anything, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’d just gotten him from Charlie Norris. It seemed like he was racing well in the halves in the New York Sire Stakes and it was what he needed to do because he was New York-sired, but us moving him over to the bigger track is definitely where we’ve seen the improvement.”
Health-wise, the horse has “had a good week” heading into the race. He also has a hearty way about him, which is something Harris admires.
“He’s just got a really good attitude,” the trainer said. “He wants to do it; he’s got a big heart. He’s not the biggest horse out there but he thinks he is.”
Is that good, or bad?
“Right now, it’s good,” Harris said. “He’s only got the one start left for stakes races, he’s going to get turned out soon, and then hopefully he gets a lot out of his system. He’s a typical 2-year-old colt and he’s full of himself. Right now, I like that. Going forward as a 3-year-old, I’m hoping he’s one of the top horses in New York. He’s getting bigger, he’s getting stronger, but he needs a little more time to mature and if he does that then he should be all right.”
Despite his optimism about Saturday, Harris knows driver Scott Zeron will be going against strong trotting opponents such as Marcus Melander and Ake Svanstedt.
“You’ve got to watch out for those guys,” Harris said. “Other than that, he’s got a really good shot. If he holds his form going through what he’s done the last couple weeks he’s going to be real tough.”
The way Sky Castles performs will decide if he has one more race in him this season. He is eligible for the Valley Victory Stakes, but this Saturday will be the gauge for if he will be entered.
“If he’s good then we’ll keep driving on,” Harris said. “The Valley Victory is a huge step up in my opinion. You’re going to have a lot of those Breeders Crown horses in there. He’s going to have to show he can go with that type of a speed. We don’t have some of those horses that were in the Breeders Crown in this race.
“I realize the Valley Victory is a huge step up. We’re going to have to play that one by ear. If he doesn’t show he’s good enough for the Valley Victory, we’ll shut him down and probably have a really nice New York Sire Stakes horse next year and dabble in some other races that he’s good enough for.”
As for the remaining Kindergarten championships Saturday, Senorita Rita is the morning-line favorite in the filly trot, Rocknificent in the filly pace, and Captain Barbossa in the colt-and-gelding pace. The fillies are from the stable of trainer Linda Toscano. Captain Barbossa is trained by Tony Alagna.
Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For Saturday’s complete entries, click here.