by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Trenton, NJ — Trainer Paula Wellwood doesn’t mind Smart As Hill’s playful streak. His speed more than makes up for it.
“He is improving,” Wellwood said. “He’s still very coltish. He does little colt things. He doesn’t really have a care in the world, he’s like that. But that’s OK — if they can go fast.”
“And,” she added with a laugh, “he can do that.”
That speed has gotten Smart As Hill into Saturday’s $600,000 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old male trotters, where he drew post No. 4 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
All 12 Breeders Crown championships, with $6.4 million in total purses, will be raced Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Post time is 5:30 p.m. (EDT) for the first race.
Smart As Hill, another in a long line of quality Muscle Hill offspring, out of Smarty Pants, has hit the board in all but one of his nine starts, taking three firsts, three seconds and two thirds for $105,491 in earnings.
Owned by the Wellwood family’s Dreamville Stable and Steve Organ, the horse was a surprise winner in his elimination, rallying from fifth in the stretch in a lifetime-best 1:53.4 to return $36.80. He was driven by Bob McClure, who had never participated in a Breeders Crown until last weekend.
Bettors were surprised, but did Smart As Hill surprise Wellwood?
“Yes. Yes he did,” she said. “In the last turn I thought, uh oh, we’re not too good. Then he got clear sailing. But he’s done that before. He did that in the Wellwood too (finishing second). He was just a little far back but he was flying at the end.”
His effort in the elimination was typical of how the season has gone, as Smart As Hill continues to do the unexpected.
“He’s been a nice surprise,” Wellwood said. “He always was a good training colt, but we didn’t know he was going to come to this level. He’s just an all-around nice horse. He’s got a lot of good attributes — size, strength, speed, all those things you need.”
The trainer noted that Smart As Hill was on the small side upon purchase, but had a rapid growth spurt that had to be accounted for.
“It took a lot of months to get him to finally fill out and grow up,” Wellwood said. “Once he did, he just got stronger and stronger. If you look at his lines, we raced him in (the Define The World Series) and brought him along very slowly. He’s typical of what we do, where two or three weeks between races is not an issue. That’s just how we’re going to approach it.”
New York Sire Stakes champion Gimpanzee won the division’s other elimination to remain unbeaten in eight career starts, and drew post five in the final. He overcame a four-week absence and the difficult tuck-then-first-over trip to finish in 1:54.4.
Trainer Marcus Melander was not surprised at how his horse, who has earned $291,358 this year, handled the first-over situation with Brian Sears in the sulky.
“He has a lot of stamina, he’s a very strong horse,” Melander said. “He can do a lot of work in the races. The eight hole (in the elimination) is never good, so that was a little concern because you never know what kind of trip you will get. But it worked out good.”
As it has all season.
“I’m very happy with him,” the trainer continued. “He’s got a great attitude. He goes out there like an older horse. You can leave with him and then you can just sit with him two fingers and he never gets overanxious. His technique is amazing. If you look at those half-mile tracks in New York, he just lays down in the turns like a car. I like everything about him. He’s just a very nice horse.”
“If you go (1):55 at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, it’s a special horse,” Melander said. “Of course, like always, the New York horses don’t get as much credit as the other ones. But I’ve been feeling he’s a very nice horse. He just does it very easy out there. He’s very strong, he’s got a lot of speed, he’s got a great attitude, and he’s been fresh and sound all year.”
Gimpanzee is owned by Courant Inc. and S R F Stable.
“He feels very sharp,” Melander said. “I’m very confident in my horse. The final will be tougher, of course, but I’m very confident in him.”
Melander has a second horse in the final with Green Manalishi S, a Swedish-bred colt that Anders Strom purchased for a Swedish auction-record 3 million kroner ($265,000 U.S.). Named after a Fleetwood Mac song, Green Manalishi S has five firsts and four seconds in his nine starts, earning $372,557. Tim Tetrick drove him to a second behind Smart As Hill in his elimination.
“He was very good,” Melander said. “I was very happy with him. He was a little grabby, so we went a little fast on the backside there, but I was very happy with him.”
He hopes to be just as happy on Saturday.
“I think he will be much sharper (this) week,” Melander said. “He had some sickness problem when he got home from Lexington, so I was very happy with how he raced. We could have drawn a little better (post eight for the final). But he’s a very good horse. It will make things more difficult, of course, but he’s good enough to win anyway.”
For Saturday’s complete card, click here. Following is the draw for the Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old male trotters.
1-Hudson River-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter
2-Chin Chin Hall-Peter Wrenn-Melanie Wrenn
3-Prospect Hill-Andy Miller-Julie Miller
4-Smart As Hill-Bob McClure-Paula Wellwood
5-Gimpanzee-Brian Sears-Marcus Melander
6-Super Schissel-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter
7-Trix And Stones-Scott Zeron-Carl Jamieson
8-Green Manalishi S-Tim Tetrick-Marcus Melander
9-Kings County-Brian Sears-Domenico Cecere
- Gimpanzee remains unbeaten with Crown male trot elimination score (Friday, October 19, 2018)
New York Sire Stakes champion Gimpanzee ($4.00) remained undefeated in eight career starts, overcoming a four-week absence and the tough tuck-then-first-over trip to post a 1:54.4 victory in one of two $25,000 Breeders Crown eliminations for 2-year-old trotting males Friday (Oct. 19) at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
- Napolitano punches his ticket to first Breeders Crown final (Sunday, October 21, 2018)
George Napolitano Jr. has won more races than any driver in the history of The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, but it was a second-place finish at his home oval that proved to be a winner in terms of punching Napolitano’s ticket to his first Breeders Crown final. Napolitano guided Stella Jane to a runner-up finish behind undefeated Woodside Charm in their Breeders Crown elimination last week to advance to Saturday’s $600,000 championship for 2-year-old filly trotters at Pocono.