Harness racing fans could witness the first sub-1:50 trotting race on a mile track Saturday at the Meadowlands, but if not then, it is probably just a matter of time.
Saturdayâ€™s $175,000 Arthur J. Cutler Memorial for older trotters features a speedy group of 10 horses, including newly minted world champion Sebastian K. The former Swedish star won his Cutler elimination last week, which was his North American debut, in a world-record-equaling 1:50.1.
But the field also includes two-time Dan Patch Award-winner Market Share, who captured his Cutler elimination in 1:50.3, and Arch Madness, who holds the world record of 1:50.2 for an older gelding trotter on a mile oval.
All totaled, the Cutler Memorial features six trotters to win in 1:51 or less at some point in their careers. Sevruga has a lifetime-best mark of 1:50.3, which he accomplished on a five-eighths-mile track while setting a world record. Intimidate and Modern Family each has a career-best time of 1:51.
â€œItâ€™s going to be a good race,â€ said Tim Tetrick, who drives Market Share for trainer Linda Toscano. â€œIf it sets up right, someone could set the world record. Thereâ€™s got to be some speed up front; I donâ€™t think one horse can do it by himself. It will be a chess match in the middle of the race, but people will be putting horses in play.
â€œThese horses are fresh and happy and sprinting home good. There are five or six that can trot a quarter in 26 (seconds) on the end of it. Who knows how fast we can go.â€
Elimination winners Sebastian K, who was Swedenâ€™s Horse of the Year in 2012, and Market Share have attracted much of the pre-race attention and were essentially made co-favorites for the Cutler. Market Share is 8-5 on the morning line; Sebastian K is 9-5.
But any number of horses is capable of winning the Cutler. Sevruga won last yearâ€™s race and Arch Madness, a 10-year-old who has earned $4.15 million in his career, captured the 2010 edition. Intimidate has a Breeders Crown triumph to his credit, Archangel won the 2012 Yonkers Trot, and Modern Family won last yearâ€™s Meadowlands Maturity.
â€œEverybody makes it seem like itâ€™s a two-horse race, but I think itâ€™s far from a two-horse race,â€ said Yannick Gingras, who drives Archangel for trainer Ron Burke. â€œYou have a lot of depth in this field. Sebastian K is definitely very fast, but the trip did set up for him (in his elimination). We will see what he can do this week.
â€œThey have to go fast, but (Sebastian K and Market Share) might hook up, too. There are 10 horses in the race and I think they can do 1:51 or better. A lot of these horses are super sharp and my horse is only going to keep improving. We need a little luck at this point, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s impossible.â€
The top five finishers in Sebastian Kâ€™s Cutler elim all trotted 1:51 or less, marking the second time in history that five trotters went that fast in the same race. The other occurrence came in Arch Madnessâ€™ 1:50.2 win at Lexingtonâ€™s Red Mile in September.
â€œIf the fractions are right (they could go faster than 1:50),â€ said Bernie Noren, the assistant to Sebastian Kâ€™s trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt. â€œOf course itâ€™s a harder competition; youâ€™ve got 10 good horses. Itâ€™s all about the fractions; somebody has to put up the fractions to the half.
â€œWith this group (of older trotters) Iâ€™m a hundred percent sure weâ€™re going to see not one, but maybe a couple, under (1):50 this year.â€
John Campbell, who drives Possessed Fashion for trainer Tom Fanning, was not surprised by the 8-year-old Sebastian Kâ€™s performance in his debut.
â€œI knew going in to the race that he was an excellent horse,â€ said Campbell, who won the prestigious Elitlopp in Sweden with Mack Lobell in 1988. â€œWhen you have a horse that races at that top level over in Europe like he has for the last couple years, theyâ€™re excellent horses. I wasnâ€™t that surprised that he won or was that impressive because I have so much respect for what those top free-for-allers do over in Europe and how grueling it is over there.
â€œ(Sebastian K) is definitely the horse to beat, but heâ€™s going to have to be at his best or somebody will beat him. At this level, if youâ€™re not at your very best, youâ€™re not going to win.
â€œI think weâ€™re going to see someone trot under 1:50 in the very near future, whether itâ€™s Saturday or shortly after that. I think it will happen this year, and I think thereâ€™s a good chance it will happen more than once.â€
Following is the field in post order for the Cutler Memorial with drivers, trainers and morning line: 1. Sebastian K, Ake Svanstedt, Ake Svanstedt, 9-5; 2. Market Share, Tim Tetrick, Linda Toscano, 8-5; 3. Sevruga, Ron Pierce, Julie Miller, 8-1; 4. Archangel, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 15-1; 5. Intimidate, Vincent Ginsburg, Luc Blais, 10-1; 6. Undercover Strike, Corey Callahan, Jonas Czernyson, 30-1; 7. Arch Madness, George Brennan, Trond Smedshammer, 8-1; 8. Possessed Fashion, John Campbell, Tom Fanning, 50-1; 9. Modern Family, David Miller, Daryl Bier, 6-1; 10. DWâ€™s NY Yank, Mike Lachance, Ron Burke, 30-1.
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