by M. Kelly Young, executive assistant, the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State
—Great George Two equaled the track and stakes record in his division of the Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial Trot at The Syracuse Mile on Sunday, August 21.
Great George Two was on his best behavior in the $90,600 second division and scored in 1:52.3 to equal the track and stakes record set by American Winner in 1993. The colt has a bad habit of breaking stride early in the mile and taking himself out of contention, but when he stays flat he shows tremendous speed.
“I wanted to get him out of the gate clean so I just drifted out and there weren’t any holes to drop into so I just drifted on to the lead,” said 24-year-old driver Jonathan Roberts. “I never can tell until he hits the first turn how he’s going to be that day.”
“I knew we were rolling along pretty good,” he added of the record-equaling time, “but there were some horses behind me that can sprint home. If I gave him an honest mile, I didn’t think they could sprint by me in the end.”
Great George Two got to the front after the first quarter in :27.3, posted by Ro Lo, and then set the remaining fractions of :55.1 and 1:24.4 for the biggest stakes victory of his career.
The North Carolina-bred son of Hobokenbahamamamas is owned by Adam Ainspan and Mary Beth Roberts’Graham Grace Stables, Thomas Lander’s M & W Stables and trainer Bib Roberts, the driver’s father. Great George Two has won seven of his 11 starts this year for $179,975 in career earnings.
“I thought if George didn’t break, he was going to win it; he only really beats himself,” said Ainspan in the winner’s circle.
Ainspan, who lives in Virginia with wife Mary Beth Roberts, has owned horses for only three years. He said that the ownership group plans to supplement Great George Two to the World Trotting Derby on Sept. 3 and then take him to the Canadian Trotting Derby before considering a Breeders Crown supplement.
E. Carlyle Smith, his daughter-in-law Diane Smith and Paul Nojaim, all of Syracuse, own Muscle Memory with trainer Jimmy Takter’s wife Christina.
“It was wonderful to win here, very rewarding,” said Carlyle Smith of the hometown victory. “That was a pretty good race and (driver Brian Sears) didn’t even pull the earplugs. We haven’t even seen the best of our horse yet.”
Sears steered Muscle Memory out for the early lead and was briefly covered going to the quarter before retaking the front and cruising home the 2 3/4 length winner in 1:55.2. It was the second Zweig victory in as many years for Sears, who won the event for the first time in 2004 with Enflammatory.
“He was the best in the race and I drove him like the best,” said Sears of the 1-5 favorite in the $88,100 first division.
Muscle Memory, who finished third in the Hambletonian on Aug. 6, pushed his career earnings to $343,072 with the win, his fourth in nine starts this year.
This was the third Zweig Trot victory for the Smith family, who also won in 1994 with Gum Ball and in 1996 with Moni Maker, who went on to become an international trotting star and the richest trotter in history at the time.
Hall of Famer Cat Manzi directed Sir Perseverance home second and New York-bred The Big Cat was third with Howard Okusko Jr. driving.
Two divisions of the Zweig Memorial Trot for fillies were raced earlier on the card. In the fourth race Sears directed Her Culese to a career mark 1:55.3 for owners David McDuffee, Irv Liverman and John Fielding. Hall of Fame driver Ron Pierce steered Reinvent to a 1:56 career mark in the second race for Perfect World Enterprises. Both horses are trained by Brett Pelling.
Also during the card, Ray Schnittker scored his 2,000th career driving victory with Mulberry in the eighth race New York Sire Stakes for 2-year-old pacing fillies. Schnittker was catch-driving for Doug Ackerman, who owns, trains and bred the filly. The Middletown, N.Y., resident celebrated in the winner’s circle with family and friends.
Sunday’s racing at the New York State Fairgrounds concluded the six-day, two weekend harness racing meet at The Syracuse Mile.
Jeff Gregory successfully defended his title as the leading driver with 13 wins in 50 starts and $161,801 in earnings. Brian Allen was second in wins with nine, while Howard Okusko Jr. was second in money with $102,999.
Among trainers, Paul Doherty led with five wins in 21 starts and Pelling led in earnings with $57,513.