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Yonkers, NY — American Courage picked up the most significant win of his career to date by scoring a 1:51.4 decision in Friday night’s (July 2) $500,000 MGM Grand Messenger Stakes final, the first leg of the Triple Crown of Pacing for 3-year-olds.
Starting from post six over a Yonkers Raceway surface left sloppy by persistent, steady rainfall, American Courage pressed on two-wide under the direction of Matt Kakaley and forged his way by early leader Charlie May (Brett Miller) past the :27 opening quarter. After working to get command, Kakaley was able to get American Courage a nice breather in the second quarter, as the half went on the board in :56.3.
As the colts and geldings passed the half-mile point, driver Brian Sears sent Chase H Hanover first-over from the fourth spot, and that would give a second-over trip to Abuckabett Hanover (Andrew McCarthy), who was able to tuck into fifth after floating away from post eight. Chase H Hanover was able to get into second on the rim racing to the 1:24.1 three-quarters, but that was as far as he could go as American Courage repelled his bid.
On the far turn Abuckabett Hanover made a break, ending any chance he had, and then in the lane Chase H Hanover faded, giving Charlie May the path to the outside he was looking for. After getting clear, Charlie May did rally and gain, but it wasn’t enough as American Courage held sway to win by a half-length. Chase H Hanover did save third, with Simon Says Hanover (Scott Zeron) and I’ll Drink To That (Dexter Dunn) completing the top-five finishers.
“He’s a special colt. If they were going to duke it out a little bit, I would have just laid in there and waited, but Brett got a pretty easy lead, so I didn’t want him to get soft fractions,” remarked Kakaley. “I moved to the front, and he was so strong. I kicked the plugs at the top of the stretch, and he just exploded. That’s the first time I pulled the plugs all year. (Charlie May) was coming close, but I wasn’t that worried.”
An American Ideal colt trained by Travis Alexander for owner-breeder Fiddler’s Creek Stables, American Courage won for the 11th time in 12 career starts, and he has now put away $468,633. The 6-5 favorite, American Courage paid $4.50 to win. The $1 exacta also returned $4.50, and the $1 trifecta was worth $22.30.
“To me, it was unbelievable just because the track is horrendous and to have to work like that through the first turn to make the front. Matt had it under control — all the confidence in Matt and what he did, and the horse responded. It was a great race. Charlie May raced unbelievable,” said Alexander. “I knew (he had it) in the last turn because I saw what Matt was doing; he was jamming, making it a sprint, and I know my horse is quicker than people give him credit for. It worked out. He needed to do that with the half-mile racing, that strategy, and that’s the way it went.
“It feels good. I’m happy for the owner. He puts so much money into the game and deserves this win. This will probably be his last start at Yonkers for a while. Now we move on to bigger things. Meadowlands Pace elims next, and then away we go.”