Ron Burke leads all trainers in starters for Saturday’s (June 8) Pepsi North America Cup eliminations at Ontario’s Woodbine Mohawk Park, and although his three 3-year-old pacers are winless this season, the sport’s leading conditioner is anticipating improved performances from his group.
Burke, the 2018 Trainer of the Year in the U.S., sends out De Los Cielos Deo in the first of two C$50,000 eliminations and Captain Victorious and Semi Tough in the second. Nancy Johansson and Brian Brown are the only other trainers with multiple horses in the North America Cup elims, with two each.
The top-five finishers from each nine-horse elimination will advance to the C$1 million final on June 15. The connections of the elimination winners will select their post positions for the final and the remaining eight horses will be put in an open draw. The draw will be Tuesday during a luncheon at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
De Los Cielos Deo won his first five races last season before finishing second in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final and his elimination of the Metro. He was no better than fourth in three remaining starts but was dealing with a foot issue.
So far this season, the colt is winless in three races, but he heads to his North America Cup elimination off a 1:48.4 win in a qualifier last weekend at The Meadowlands.
“I knew he had that in him,” Burke said. “Things have just gone terrible for him the first few races. I knew he was good, so I just told (driver David Miller) to stretch him a little bit in the qualifier to make sure I’m right. I was very happy with him.”
Semi Tough, who was second to Stag Party in last year’s Metro Pace at Mohawk, is winless in four races this year, but has hit the board three times. Captain Victorious was a three-time winner last year on the Pennsylvania circuit for trainer Julie Miller. He was purchased by the Burke-led Captain V Stable in April and finished third in his debut for his new connections but was off the board in two starts since then.
“We scoped Captain Victorious and his stomach has ulcers,” Burke said. “I think that’s led to his last couple bad performances. I’m hoping we’ll have him ready to go. Semi Tough, every start he’s gotten progressively better. He’s heading in the right direction.
“I think we’re going to be all right.”
The first elimination features Dan Patch Award winner Captain Crunch, who is one of Johansson’s two entrants, along with Caviart Rockland in the second elim. The second elimination also includes O’Brien Award winner Stag Party in the nine-horse field.
Captain Crunch is 2-for-2 this year and is among six horses entering the first elimination off a win (not counting De Los Cielos Deo’s qualifier victory). The others include Art Rooney Pace winner Bettor’s Wish, New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Hurrikane Emperor, and Somebeachsomewhere Stakes division winner Century Farroh.
Bettor’s Wish, Hurrikane Emperor, Century Farroh, and Shake That House join Captain Crunch as the field’s undefeated horses this season, a combined 15-0.
The second elimination has one unbeaten horse this year, Brown’s Workin Ona Mystery, who is 2-for-2. Tyga Hanover brings a three-race win streak to the elim, including a victory in a Somebeachsomewhere division.
Saturday’s card at Mohawk also includes two eliminations for the Fan Hanover Stakes for 3-year-old female pacers and a prep race for the Roses Are Red Stakes for older female pacers. Racing begins at 7:10 p.m. (EDT) at Mohawk.
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