Yonkers, NY — When New Zealand-bred pacers Mighty Santana and Hesa Kingslayer arrived in Mike Deters’ stable this summer, the former fit the mold of a typical Deters trainee: a great big, strapping, good-looking horse. Then there was the latter. Take a walk through Deters’ stable and he might stand out to you.
“Hesa Kingslayer is quite well-built, but not very big,” Deters said. “I was actually kind of nervous about it. I said, ‘Oh boy, we could be in trouble here.’ ”
Hesa Kingslayer drew post position four in the Saturday night (Dec. 19) open handicap pace in what will be just the 37th start in the 7-year-old’s career. Jim Marohn Jr. will drive and the pair are 6-1 on the morning line.
By Christian Cullen out of the Bettor’s Delight mare Millwood Manhattan, Hesa Kingslayer raced for the first time as a 4-year-old, finishing third in a NZ$10,700 maiden for Greg and Nina Hope at the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club May 4, 2018. Hesa Kingslayer then won two straight races at Timaru and Invcargill. He won his first Metro race Aug. 17, 2018, but never rose to the free-for-all ranks in New Zealand.
Hesa Kingslayer went to Australia in mid-2019 and continued to improve. He won nine of 14 starts on the continent, including three wins at Gloucester Park. His final Down Under start came May 22, 2020.
“We bought him from an agent named Frank Rinaldi. He said this horse could be a diamond in the rough. He said he would need work, but he thought he could be helped and he might be a very good horse,” Deters said. “My partner, Joel Warner, and I took a shot on him. I watched a bunch of his races and he had a big motor. That’s what intrigued us about him.”
Both Mighty Santana and Hesa Kingslayer were cleared to the U.S. on Aug. 3. Deters gave the horses all the time they needed.
“We got him the first week of August and I turned him out for a few weeks and we started a slow grind to get him ready,” Deters said. “These are actually the first horses I’ve imported myself, and the agent recommended that if you give them some time, you’re far better off. And that’s what we did.”
Before starting serious work with Hesa Kingslayer, a few kinks needed to be worked out. The gelding had bad feet that required correction. He had also lost significant weight on his long journey.
“He is a really nice horse to be around, nice horse to work around,” Deters said. “We were able to do some corrective shoeing on him and take care of his stomach and turn him into a really nice horse.”
Hesa Kingslayer qualified at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Oct. 7. With Trace Tetrick in the bike, Hesa Kingslayer gunned straight to the lead and peeled away by 3-3/4-lengths to win in 1:54.1 with a :27.2 final quarter. He hasn’t seen the front end since, and probably won’t for some time.
“We knew he was very, very fast, but could be a little hot,” Deters said. “We had a game plan that leaving with this horse is probably not a good idea. Trace Tetrick qualified him and said he was pretty warm. I train him by himself. He’s fine by himself, but when he saw the starting gate, he activated.”
Hesa Kingslayer finished eighth in his first U.S. pari-mutuel start on Oct. 17 with Peter Wrenn in the bike. Then, he finished second at 41-1 in his next start Oct. 23, pacing home with a :25.4 final quarter under Tim Tetrick’s encouragement.
“My brother-in-law drove him his first start and he was hot, hot, hot, hot and he was able to duck him,” Deters said. “Then Tim Tetrick drove him the next week and he said, ‘I wouldn’t leave with this horse for a year.’ We’ve been ducking him and he always thunders home. No matter where he’s at, he’s charging at the wire. That will be the game plan for a while.”
Hesa Kingslayer won his next two races, a $16,500 second division of the Open pace at Hoosier Park Nov. 6 and the $18,000 Open Nov. 13, in which he took a lifetime mark of 1:50.1. In his final Hoosier Park start in the open pace Nov. 20, Hesa Kingslayer utilized a :25.1 final quarter to come from 15-1/4 lengths behind to nab second.
While the rest of Deters’ stable shipped to Florida for the winter following the Hoosier Park meet, Hesa Kingslayer and Mighty Santana went to Chris Freck at White Birch Farm for a Yonkers campaign.
“The purse money is one thing,” Deters said. “A lot of those Australian and New Zealand horses are better in cooler weather. And I have a couple other open pacers at Pompano and you can only have so many of them at one location or it doesn’t work out. I think it was potentially a good move. At least the little horse is adapting to Yonkers quite well.”
Hesa Kingslayer made his Yonkers debut in the $30,000 Open Handicap Pace Dec. 5. In that start, driver Marohn took Hesa Kingslayer back into fifth early and watched as Tookadiveoffdipper, Hot Deuce, Rock Diamonds, and Western Fame all vied for the lead. With those four still charging three-wide to the quarter and covered only two lengths through a :26.3 opening panel, Hesa Kingslayer bided his time.
Tookadiveoffdipper parked Western Fame through a half-mile in :54.1. While San Domino slid out of sixth to join the flow third-over, Marohn stuck to the pylons with Hesa Kingslayer. Up the backstretch, San Domino tipped three-wide and confronted the pacesetters, who had dueled each other into defeat. While San Domino struck the lead with a quarter-mile to race, Hesa Kingslayer was mired in traffic and shuffled to last.
Hesa Kingslayer finally had open road at the midway point of the final turn with just over a furlong left to race. He circled everyone but San Domino, who had scampered away by 4-1/2 lengths.
“I thought he raced tremendous,” Deters said. “I would have liked to see him out third-over, I think he would have had an opportunity to win, but that’s a two-second call by the driver and he sat in and did what he had to do. When he finally shook free, he was pacing at the wire. I know he didn’t really come a better last quarter than anybody else in the race, but he went from zero in mid-turn and he shifted three-high and was really pacing at the wire. I was very, very happy with his performance.”
On Saturday night Hesa Kingslayer and Marohn will take on San Domino, last week’s winner who will start from the outside post again, and Ostro Hanover, who will start from post seven after winning the Open on Dec. 5 and finishing second in the $125,000 Invitational Pace for Borgata Series Eligibles Nov. 28.
The field also includes Hudson Phil, who was second to Ostro Hanover in this open Dec. 5, and Speed Man, who upset this open at 35-1 Nov. 21. Rock Diamonds, Bronx Seelster, and Raukapuka Ruler complete the lineup for the final pacing feature of the year at Yonkers.
“I hope there’s action on the front,” Deters said. “I don’t think there will be action like there was last week because that had to surprise everybody to see them going that kind of half. I would like to see a fast tempo and see my horse coming second- or third-over and hopefully he’s charging at the wire.”
First post time Saturday night is 7:12 p.m. Racing continues at Yonkers Monday (Dec. 21) and Tuesday (Dec. 22), closing night. The proposed racing schedule for January 2021 would see live harness racing return Jan. 11 and continue on a Monday – Wednesday schedule with first post time at 7:15 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.