Hightstown, NJ — Two 3-year-olds have defeated older rivals in the history of the FanDuel (formerly TVG) Championships at The Meadowlands. On Saturday, one of those winners’ sons will look to duplicate the accomplishment.
Three-year-old colt Tactical Approach will take on six older male foes in the FanDuel Open Trot Championship at the Big M. His sire, Tactical Landing, won the event in 2018, when another 3-year-old, Six Pack, finished second. The two sophomores were sent off as the race’s favorites, at 7-5 and 8-5, respectively. Four-year-old Guardian Angel As was third choice at 6-1.
The other 3-year-old to win a title was also a male trotter, What The Hill in 2017. Entering Saturday, a total of 16 sophomore male and female trotters and pacers have competed in the open championships, which debuted in 2013. This year, Tactical Approach is joined by male pacer Confederate, female pacer Twin B Joe Fresh, and female trotter Bond in taking on the older horses.
Tactical Approach, who counts the Hambletonian, Kentucky Futurity, and Breeders Crown among his 10 wins this year, will start the Open Trot from post one with Scott Zeron driving for trainer Nancy Takter. He has earned $1.42 million this season, the highest total for a 3-year-old trotter since Marion Marauder, also driven by Zeron, banked $1.48 million in 2016.
The colt has four wins and a second in his past five races. His most recent victory followed the Breeders Crown, when he won the Carl Erskine Trot on Nov. 3. He enters the FanDuel off a 1:53 win in a qualifier on Nov. 18 at The Meadowlands.
“It’s nice that it’s a shortened field, he drew well, which is a change for him, and he qualified sensational the other day,” Zeron said. “I really was happy with the way he qualified, and I’m obviously happy with his current form. So, confidence is at an all-time high for the horse. I just have to have him in the right spot and give him an opportunity to see if he can beat those horses.”
Tactical Approach enjoys the fastest 2023 win time, 1:50.1, of the horses in the FanDuel, but Zeron knows the step up to face older company is a challenge. The remainder of Saturday’s field includes Breeders Crown Open Trot winner Southwind Tyrion, Maple Leaf Trot winner Alrajah One IT, and multiple Grand Circuit winner It’s Academic, whose $910,751 in purses this year is tops among older male trotters.
“It’s a different style of racing with those aged horses,” Zeron said. “People can just look at the end time, but it really has nothing to do with how those races go. It’s the quick turn of foot, it’s horses commanding the front, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Zeron did not drive Tactical Approach as a 2-year-old, when he won two of five races and earned $36,500, but has been in the sulky for all 18 of the colt’s 2023 starts. Tactical Approach has hit the board 16 times and finished worse than second only once in his past 10 races, winning seven, starting with the Hambletonian from post 10 on Aug. 5.
“It’s been great,” Zeron said. “I didn’t get to experience him last year, so this year was a bit of a learning experience at the beginning. He was so good when he started this year, so I was giving him every chance and overdriving him a little bit too much. He started finishing second or third because he would do all the dirty work.
“So, we changed tactics a little bit. Forceable so, too, because having the 10-hole in the Hambo, it was our only option. You almost chalk it up to that some things are meant to be. He got his confidence back with that Hambo win, and then continued on successfully through the year. Sitting behind him, you can just feel the confidence he has right now. He’s just an extremely talented horse.”
Tactical Approach, who is out of the mare Sarcy and owned by Robert LeBlanc, John Fielding, and Joe Sbrocco & JAF Racing, is one of only two horses this century to win the Hambletonian and a Breeders Crown in the same year. The other is Muscle Hill.
“He’s been a model of consistency throughout the year,” said Zeron, who is within $82,000 of his first $10-million season in purses. “That’s hats off to the management of the ownership group, Nancy, and the caretaker for keeping him happy and healthy.
“He has great stamina and he’s capable of racing any which way. He’s big and strong and I’d say he easily has the biggest stride on a trotter, for full extension, that I’ve ever had. It’s quite impressive if you see still shots of him in full stride.”
Southwind Tyrion is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Open Trot, followed by Alrajah One IT at 5-2 and Tactical Approach at 4-1. Southwind Tyrion and Alrajah One IT are trained by Ake Svanstedt, as is Rattle My Cage, who is 8-1.
In the Open Pace, Bythemissal is the 3-2 favorite. The Ron Burke trainee has won four in a row, including the Breeders Crown Open. Confederate, the sport’s No. 1-ranked horse and a head from being undefeated this season in 14 races, is the 7-2 second choice.
Svanstedt trainees Bond and Jiggy Jog S, both winners of a Breeders Crown, are 7-5 and even money, respectively, in the FanDuel Mares Trot. Millionaire Twin B Joe Fresh is the 6-5 favorite in the Mares Pace, with Breeders Crown Mares Open champ Max Contract at 8-5.
Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EST) Saturday. For complete entries, click here.
For free TrackMaster programs for the Big M, click here.