Zacon Gio brings win streak to Yonkers International Trot

Yonkers, NY — In 1993, Holger Ehlert was working as an assistant trainer in Wim Paal’s stable. Paal sent Embassy Lobell to New York to represent France in the International Trot that year and Mike Lachance kept the American-bred well off a blistering early pace.

Zacon Gio looks to continue win streak in Yonkers International Trot. Kristin Riise Odegard.

However, as the field came into the stretch for the second of three times, Lachance misjudged the 1 1/4-mile stakes distance. He yanked on the left line and urged Embassy Lobell up the pylons, passing Norway’s Prince Of Mischief and Germany’s Sea Cove to take third passing the wire with one circuit remaining. Although Embassy Lobell continued to track in third for the final half-mile, he lost ground in the stretch as Giant Force out-dueled Meadow Prophet to win the $500,000 stakes.

Ehlert’s next chance to experience International Trot glory didn’t come for another 23 years. After 10 years with Paal, Ehlert went out on his own in 1994, moved to Italy, where he met his wife, Anne, and started a family. In 2013, Ringostarr Treb came to Ehlert’s barn and after the trotter posted a strong season in Italy in 2016, he earned an invitation to the $1 million Yonkers International Trot.

The International Trot dream would slip through Ehlert’s fingers again though. Shortly before Ringostarr Treb was scheduled to fly to New York, a failed blood test prevented the horse from traveling to the United States.

“That was really big disappointment for us,” Anne Ehlert said via email. “The horse was top at the time, and we didn’t understand why the tests were not OK. Later on, the veterinarian explained what the problem was. He maybe had had tick bite earlier and that made his antibodies high. It is forbidden to travel to the U.S. if that value is over certain level. We got test result in the same day as the flight, so there was nothing we could do, and we couldn’t have known it earlier. That was tough for the whole team.”

Although Holger Ehlert’s two brushes with the International Trot proved memorable for the wrong reasons, he and Anne hope to make good memories in this year’s renewal of the Yonkers International. The pair will bring Zacon Gio across the Atlantic to compete in the $1 million stakes.

“It would mean a lot. It has always been our biggest dream to win this race,” Anne Ehlert said. “This time we really wish that everything goes right. We believe it is a third time charmed and we will be very proud to present the Italian flag.”

Ehlert has 120 horses in training at his Pisa, Tuscany stable and Anne works in breeding and breaking babies, in addition to taking care of some of the older horses. Zacon Gio’s personality helps him stand out from the pack.

“Zacon Gio is like yearling and always willing to play, never serious. He is not big, medium size American-type horse. He looks like he is out of Yankee Glide, the sire of his dam,” Anne Ehlert said. “He is funny to work with, but you have to be always alert. He sees and hears things that nobody else sees. The previous trainer said that he was always like that.”

A 4-year-old by Ruty Grif out of the Yankee Glide mare May Glade Font Sm, Zacon Gio began his career with trainer Domenico Minopoli. Zacon Gio won 9 of his first 16 races but failed to make an impression in stakes, finishing eighth in the Group 1, 154,000€ Gran Premio Citta’ Di Napoli in June 2018. By August, Zacon Gio was transferred to Ehlert.

“The owners always believed that he was important and wanted to try something new for him. They called Holger and sent him to us,” Anne Ehlert said.

After finishing fourth in his debut for the stable at Cesena Sept. 1, 2018, Zacon Gio hasn’t been beaten. His win streak began next out in Bologne Oct. 25 and after four more wins in as many tries through Feb. 23, 2019, Zacon Gio earned another try in stakes company and faced his toughest test.

Zacon Gio drew post 12 in the Group 2 Premio Citta’ Di Torino at Turin April 7. The seven-across configuration meant Zacon Gio would start in the second tier behind the five horse in a 14-horse field.

Despite racing uncovered on the rim for much of the 2,060-meter stakes, when driver Roberto Vecchione kicked out the plugs and put the whip on Zacon Gio’s tail approaching the final turn, Zacon Gio assumed the lead and quickly kicked away from the field. Vecchione rested the whip back on his shoulder in the stretch as Zacon Gio cruised to a 2 1/2-length victory. After witnessing the romp, the Ehlert’s knew they had a special horse.

Zacon Gio connected again in the Group 2 Gran Premio Regione Campania April 30 before meeting French star Face Time Bourbon in the Group 1 Premio Unione Europea May 19. Vecchione sent Zacon Gio off the wings of the gate and the Italian trotter led throughout the 2,080-meter contest while the Face Time Bourbon raced first-over and applied pressure.

Zacon Gio turned away Face Time Bourbon at the midway point of the far turn and entered the stretch with a clear lead. Although he looked vanquished on the turn, the French champion took another shot at the Italian in the stretch, cutting into Zacon Gio’s advantage with each stride. With Vecchione cracking the lines, imploring with the whip, and bouncing in the bike, Zacon Gio held off Face Time Bourbon by a half-length to score in the 407,000€ stakes.

“We would have been happy even if Zacon Gio arrived second behind Face Time Bourbon,” Ehlert said. “It was great to win that race and it was really emotional. Face Time Bourbon is one of the favorites for Prix d’Amérique 2020.”

Zacon Gio earned another Group 1 win in the 154,000€ Gran Premio Tino Triossi June 29. Two more wins Aug. 25 and Sept. 14, when he took the Premio Citta’ Di Follonica in an 11-length romp, extend his win streak to 11 entering the Yonkers International Trot. Overall, Zacon Gio is 20-for-30 with $412,510 earned.

“Amazing has been the way to describe how he won all those races. It does not add extra pressure, but of course it would be great that winning streak will continue,” Ehlert said.

Despite his impressive resume, Zacon Gio has never raced outside Italy. The move was by design, but now, the Ehlerts and owner Giuseppe Franco are ready to venture away from home with their star trotter.

“He was not ready earlier,” Ehlert said. “For us (it was not a difficult decision) at all. We had (the International) in mind already after Turin. The owner had to think about it for 5 minutes, but this is a once in the lifetime possibility, so they said, ‘let’s go.’ ”

Ehlert believes dealing with the quarantine regulations will be the most difficult aspect of the journey. The European contingent for the International will be stabled at Yonkers for the week leading up to the International Oct. 12 and will spend most of the time in their stalls, with exceptions made for training on the Hilltop oval and grazing in the track’s infield.

“The biggest challenge is absolutely quarantine,” Ehlert said. “Zacon Gio is used to going to the paddock every day and he won’t have that possibility. He’s never flown, but he travels well, so we believe the flight is not going to be problem for him.”

Zacon Gio’s nine rivals in the Yonkers International Trot include defending champion Cruzado Dela Noche (Sweden) and 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta (U.S.). Guardian Angel AS will also represent the U.S. and Marion Marauder will race for Canada. The other European invaders are Bahia Quesnot (France), Lionel (Norway), Norton Commander (Germany), Slide So Easy (Denmark), and Uza Josselyn.

“We are very excited. We are not afraid of anybody, but we have respect for everybody,” Ehlert said.

The $1 million Yonkers International Trot is slated for Saturday, October 12 at Yonkers Raceway. The card will also feature a pair of $250,000 invitationals, the 1 1/4-mile Harry Harvey Trot and 1-mile Dan Rooney Pace. For more information on the event and its participants, click here.

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 6:50 p.m. 

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