Bragging rights and a Breeders Crown title will be on the line Saturday night when Lazarus N and McWicked resume their season-long rivalry.
American Brian Sears will drive early 5/2 favourite McWicked in the US$430,000 Breeders Crown open pace at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. It will be one of 12 races in the US$6.4 million Crown event, harness racing’s richest divisional championship series.
Yannick Gingras, of Sorel, Que., drives 3/1 second choice Lazarus N, who’ll start inside of McWicked in the No. 2 hole in the eight-horse field. The season-long series between the two pacing rivals is tied at two wins apiece.
“It (No. 2 position) doesn’t hurt,” Gingras said. “I’m sure (Sears) doesn’t want me to get away too far from him and vice versa, we definitely want to stay close to one another.
“Now, I’d like to get away from him but I don’t think he’ll let that happen. But I don’t believe it will be a two-horse race, there are four or five horses that could win so we don’t want to get too focused on one horse and have another beat you.”
McWicked was victorious in their last meeting, posting a time of 1:46.2 — the second-fastest race in history — for a 3/4-length victory over Lazarus N in the Allerage Farms Open at Red Mile on Oct. 6. McWicked also won the Dan Rooney Invitational Pace at Yonkers on Oct. 13 but Lazarus N didn’t race due to sickness.
Lazarus N was supplemented for Saturday’s race at US$50,000 but the horse’s health is Gingras’ biggest worry.
“No. 1 he has to be healthy, which from what I’m hearing he is but still, that’s definitely a bit of a concern,” Gingras said. “After that, I think it’s whoever gets the best trip.
“McWicked is a tremendous horse and I really like mine so the trip is going to make a big difference.”
McWicked, a ’14 Breeders Crown champion as a three-year-old, is the sport’s top money-earner this season with $1.17 million. He’s won nine-of-16 races for trainer Casie Coleman of Cambridge, Ont., and Canadian owner Ed James’s S S G Stables.
McWicked played the role of spoiler Sept. 1, overtaking 1/5 favourite Lazarus N to win the $600,000 Canadian Pacing Derby at Woodbine Mohawk Park. It was American driver Dave Miller’s third Derby victory but Coleman’s first.
“Everything seems good with him,” Coleman said. “I trained him Saturday and he was awesome.
“He’s sharp, sound, healthy. I’m very happy we didn’t go elims and I got to give him a week off to freshen him up.”
The open pace was the only Breeders Crown race not to require eliminations.
A win would also earn Lazarus N _ New Zealand’s two-time horse of the year _ an invitation to next month’s TVG Series championship.
It’s been quite the whirlwind for Lazarus, who came to North America shortly after being purchased by Taylor Made Stallions. Much was expected of the brilliant six-year-old, the richest standardbred ever Down Under with earnings exceeding US$2.6 million after winning 35 of 45 starts.
And to boot, Lazarus N is being trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Jimmy Takter, who has won a record 33 Breeders Crown finals. The horse has two wins and three seconds since arriving in the U.S. in May.
“I think he’s handled everything really well,” Gingras said. “He paced 1:46.3 his last race (Allerage Farms Open) which I think was the third-fastest time in harness-racing history.
“Expectations were scary high, maybe too high, but the horse has done a great job and raced tremendously. I think you also must realize he was shipped halfway around the world and in a few months has had a top performance. He’s done everything I expected of him and more.”
Gingras will also drive 10/1 pick Pinkman, a 2014 Crown champion, from the rail in the $500,000 open trot. Right beside him will be Dunbar Hall, a 20/1 longshot driven by Jody Jamieson of Moffat, Ont.
Scott Zeron of Oakville, Ont., has Marion Marauder on the far outside in the nine-horse field. In 2016, Zeron won the Hambletonian with Marion Marauder and also leads ’18 Hambletonian champion Atlanta into the $500,000 three-year-old trotting filly championship.
Zeron’s father, Rick, co-owns and trains Atlanta.
Gingras is expecting a wide-open trot final.
“I don’t think there’s a horse that really stands out from the rest,” he said. “I think it’s anyone’s race.
“My horse is coming along. He’s had so many outside posts this year that having the rail definitely isn’t going to hurt.”
Pinkman and McWicked will look to join trotter Wesgate Crown as the only horses to win a second Breeders Crown title more than three years after earning their first.
Wesgate Crown, in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, won its first Breeders Crown as a two-year-old in 1993, then again in 1997.
Bob McClure of Elora, Ont., in his first year at Woodbine Mohawk Park, will drive horses in two Crown finals. They are: Champagne Jane ($600,000 two-year-old trotting filly); and Smart As Hill ($600,000 two-year-old trotting colt).
McClure, making Crown debut, drove Champagne Jane and Smart As Hill to victories in their elimination races.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press