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The complexion of the sport’s best sophomores in the air

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With a number of the top 2-year-olds of 2021 already out or not yet in shape, the landscape has already changed for the all-important 3-year-old division.

by Brett Sturman

Last year’s top horses are just returning to the track in qualifying and early season races, and already the landscape of many divisions has changed since its last conclusion.

Starting with the glamorous division, the premature retirement of last year’s 2-year-old colt division champion, Monte Miki, is very unfortunate. The Metro and Breeders Crown winner got excited late last year but it was announced a month ago that he had suffered a torn tendon. In his absence, perhaps early-season favorite status defaults to Pebble Beach. Last year’s 1:48.4 winner was in a Saturday split at Somebeachsomewhere in Woodbine Mohawk (results available elsewhere in this issue), as was another of Breeders Crown’s most notable entrants, Beach Glass. Gulf Shores is another that ran on an action-packed Saturday in its seasonal debut at Scioto. Brian Brown’s trainee narrowly missed Monte Miki by a nose in the Breeders Crown. The second fastest so far belongs to Night Hawk. The Meadowlands Pace-eligible colt per bet line took his 1:48.4 mark last week at Pocono by a neckline over Mad Max Hanover in a PA Division Sire Stake. Hammering Hank is another colt from last year that comes to mind; he makes his debut on Wednesday in a division of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes at Harrah’s in Philadelphia.

As for the fillies of last year’s 2-year-old pacers, it’s too early to say for sure, but Niki Hill’s seasonal debut last week could prove fatal. If nothing else, it’s another division that has the potential to be radically different this year. Never traveling smoothly throughout her PASS test in Philadelphia, she broke stride in the final part of the mile and was later reported to injure her right front ankle. Trainer Chris Ryder said in this interview that she would be back, but it seems unlikely that she will be the same towering filly that took her to second place for Horse of the Year last year. It looks like his absence opens the door for Treacherous Dragon to take the driver’s seat as stakes season gets underway. She battled last year with Niki Hill and got off to a fast 3-for-3 start in 2022, with the most recent win coming last week in an easy PASS win for Tetrick and Pelling. Sea Silk is another who deserves attention as another top first year filly and looked vicious on her seasonal debut a few weeks ago; remains in Ohio for his second start on Saturday.

Stick to the 3-year-old fillies, but on the trotting side it will all depend on how well these horses can go from 2 to 3. The talk for most of the last year has been about Venerable. The young filly who beat the colts to win the Mohawk Million looked untouchable for much of the season, but Joviality made a late super push in this division winning the Breeders Crown (from position 10) and then continuing with a win in the Goldsmith’s Wife. This year Joviality has continued on that path, most recently winning in 1:51.2 at Vernon while Venerable has broken a few times at least so far, regressed in time somewhat from last year . It’s still very early days, but it’s another strong division that includes New Jersey Sires Stakes Champion Fashion Schooner, Jiggy Jog S, Misswalner Fashion and I’m sure many more that I overlook.

3-year-old colts are another totally open division. King Of The North won this group last year with their early season performances, but they weren’t as threatening by the end of the year. He was on track to qualify on Saturday for the first time. Horses in this group that have already set fast marks this year include: Pretender, Temporal Hanover and Looks Like Moni. Last year’s Breeders Crown champion Rebuff is close to qualifying, and crown runner-up Branded By Lindy has already returned with a quick 1:52.1 qualifier from the start. Even horses like Jonas K, who achieved that record mile at Plainridge, could be heard in this very open division.

Where there seems to be some level of stability is at the top of the open trotting ranks. Ecurie D Dk didn’t win a Dan Patch last year, but it wasn’t for lack of ability. He dominated his rivals in his only two starts in North America last year, the Allerage and the Breeders Crown. In his only start so far in 2022 from the Cutler two weeks ago, he won in 1:49.1. It doesn’t seem out of the question that he could beat the all-time trotting mark of 1:48.4. Of course, it’s been a long year and it remains to be seen who might be able to step up and challenge him. Normally, there would have been a lot of anticipation to see how last year’s Trotter of the Year, Jujubee, would handle the transition to racing against older horses. But there is another who has been bitten by the injury bug and hopes to aim for a comeback later in the season.

The older women’s division is full of intrigue. If the Sentinelle de Lyon can remain as good this year as it has been for the past two years, how does it compare to Test Of Faith? How about other newly transformed 4 year old mares such as Fire Start Hanover and Oakwoodanabella – can they compete with open mares?

It’s a similar story in the free-for-all pacing division. Last year’s champion Allywag Hanover is still in the process of qualifying and it will be interesting to see if any new threats can challenge him. Linedrive Hanover which was unknown at the end of last year turned out to be a total killer. Bettor’s Donttell comes out a mile 1:47.3 at the Meadowlands. Last year’s 3-year-old champion, Perfect Sting, has retired, but his main rival, Charlie May, is still in the running and how will he fare? There are at least half a dozen other horses in this category who have shown perseverance throughout the year in this division. Among the older women’s trotting, Manchego is another now-retired, but Atlanta may have a new threat in Bella Bellini.

Despite all the uncertainty that has come with the changing momentum since late last year, it surely sets the stage for what promises to be an exciting 2022 season.