by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications
Freehold, NJ — From where trainer Linda Toscano sits, JK Patriot looks like his mom.
More importantly, the 4-year-old pacer acts like her too.
Toscano trained JK Patriot’s dam, JK Majorette, a stakes-winning three-quarter sister to millionaire Yankee Cruiser, in 2007 and 2008. Now she conditions JK Patriot for owners Matt Bencic and Sam Schillaci, and is preparing the gelding for Saturday’s $56,000 Escort Series final for 3- and 4-year-old male pacers at the Meadowlands.
“They have a similar gait,” Toscano said about JK Patriot and JK Majorette. “Sitting behind them, his rear end is the exact same as hers was.
“She was a good race mare for me, so to get to race him is kind of a cool thing. He’s got a really good desire and she was the same way too. She wanted to win.”
JK Patriot will start Saturday’s nine-horse Escort final from post eight with driver David Miller. JK Patriot, who had a win and a second-place finish in the two preliminary rounds of the series, is 6-1 on the morning line.
Toscano also will send Khan Blue Chip into the final. Khan Blue Chip, who had a dead-heat win and second-place finish in his preliminary rounds, is 4-1 from post three with driver Andy Miller.
The entry of Major Uptrend and Brick Bazooka is the 8-5 morning line favorite, followed by What I Believe at 2-1.
JK Patriot and Khan Blue Chip both were trained by Schillaci before being sent to Toscano for the Escort. JK Patriot has won seven of 24 career races and $59,709. In his last nine starts, dating back to early November, he has five victories and four second-place finishes. Khan Blue Chip, owned by William Heinz and Jack Heinz, has won six of 16 lifetime races and $38,739.
“They both came from Jodi and Sammy Schillaci; I babysit for them in the wintertime, and I’m happy to do it,” Toscano said. “They’re good horsemen and they always send horses that look great and are ready to do exactly what they tell me they’re ready to do.
“(JK Patriot) was good every start before I got him and he’s been holding his form. He’s been very sharp. (Khan Blue Chip) is a fast horse. He was unlucky in his first start — he got caught in — but finished up good. Last week he raced great.”
Last week, JK Patriot won his Escort division — which was contested at 1-1/8 miles — by two lengths over Major Uptrend, who was eventually disqualified and placed 11th. Toscano believes the extra distance might help the horse in this week’s traditional mile race.
“It can’t hurt,” Toscano said. “I don’t think (the horses) notice a difference unless they’re on the lead or on the outside. But there’s no question it will leg one up. When I’m trying to leg one up training, it’s not uncommon for me to go a mile-and-a-half, so why wouldn’t it help.”
Major Uptrend, Company Man and What I Believe each won a first-round Escort division. JK Patriot was joined by Khan Blue Chip and What I Believe, who finished in a dead heat, with victories in round two.
What I Believe will start from post four with Ron Pierce driving for trainer Ron Burke. Major Uptrend, who went off stride last week in the race won by JK Patriot, leaves from post five with Corey Callahan at the lines, also for Burke. Major Uptrend is coupled with Brick Bazooka, trained by Larry Remmen, because of common ownership.
Company Man, trained by Virgil Morgan Jr., drew post one and is 6-1 with driver Tim Tetrick.
“It’s a good group,” Toscano said. “I think the trip will win it. That’s what I like about the (JK) Patriot horse; he doesn’t seem to need one. The outside hasn’t hurt him too much and he’s been first up for a long ways. He kind of does what he needs to do.
“But there are some really nice horses in there and I think whoever gets the best trip is probably going to be the victor.”
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