Highly regarded Hambletonian hopeful Swandre The Giant begins his 3-year-old campaign Thursday (May 30) in the first round of the Indiana Sire Stakes at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. The Ron Burke-trained colt is the No. 6-ranked horse in Meadowlands Racetrack announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin’s second Road to the Hambletonian released Tuesday.
Last year, Swandre The Giant won nine of 12 races and finished second twice while earning $255,180. The colt won his first seven starts, all in Indiana, for trainer-driver Brandon Bates before being sold to the ownership group of Diamond Creek Racing, J&T Silva Stables, and Howard Taylor. He immediately tested the Grand Circuit, finishing second in his elimination of the William Wellwood Memorial at Ontario’s Woodbine Mohawk Park and going off stride a week later in the $308,000 final.
He returned to Indiana, where he won twice on the sire stakes circuit before ending the season with a second-place finish behind It’s A Herbie in the $220,000 ISS Super Final.
Swandre The Giant, who was trained by the now-retired Jimmy Takter for the second half of 2018, prepped for his 2019 debut with two wins in qualifiers at The Meadows. He competes in the first of two ISS divisions Thursday and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite in his group, with Ricky Macomber Jr. in the sulky for trainer Burke.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Diamond Creek Racing’s Adam Bowden said. “He’s come back well this year and filled out and matured. He had a few little issues last year and those all seem to be resolved. We went over him with a fine-tooth comb and everything looks good.
“He’s a clean-gaited horse and he’s got a good cruising speed. He’s the kind of horse that gives you a lot of confidence. He’s not a laidback horse, he’s intense, but he knows what you’re trying to do with him, and I think that’s important. I give Brandon a lot of credit, he brought him along slowly and was able to teach him.”
Swandre The Giant dominated in Indiana during his first seven starts, winning a maiden and six ISS events by a minimum of one length and an average margin of three. All seven of the races were at Hoosier Park, where his career-best time of 1:54.2 was two-fifths of a second off the track record for a 2-year-old male trotter.
“He was a homebody to that point, and I think shipping around might not have been best for him,” Bowden said, referring to the trip to Canada for the Wellwood. “We might have asked a little too much of him and he wasn’t ready for it mentally or physically, but we wanted to see what we had. We might have been better just staying in-state for the rest of the year and letting him develop against the competition there. But hindsight is 20/20.”
Swandre The Giant is a son of Swan For All, who sired 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover and 2017 Breeders Crown 2-year-old colt trotting champion Fiftydallarbill. Diamond Creek was among the owners of Swan For All during his racing career and remains part of the stallion’s syndicate. The colt’s dam, Adagio, was a Kentucky Sire Stakes champion in 2011. In addition to the Indiana Sire Stakes and August’s $1 million Hambletonian, Swandre The Giant is eligible to a number of races including the Tompkins-Geers, Canadian Trotting Classic, Breeders Crown, Carl Erskine Trot, and Matron.
“We have options,” Bowden said. “He can race in Indiana, or if he proves himself up to it, he can go on to the Grand Circuit. You can make a lot of money racing in Indiana, but I think the ownership group is thinking bigger. We’ll see how he does Thursday and Ron can make a decision about what’s next. We’ll let the horse tell us what he is.”
Swandre The Giant is one of three Hambletonian-eligible trotters participating in Thursday’s Indiana Sire Stakes races. The others are Lite Years Away (20-1 in the first division) and Sign Here N Here (12-1 in the second division). It’s A Herbie, who is making his seasonal debut, is the 5-2 second choice in the second division, behind 2-1 favorite Airman Kelly. The purse for the first division, with a nine-horse field, is $48,000; for the second, with a 10-horse field, $48,500.
Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT).
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