All eyes were on the phenomenal Muscle Hill
Saturday at Mohawk Racetrack, as the
three-year-old made his Canadian debut in
one of two eliminations for next weekend’s
$1 million Canadian Trotting Classic.
The son of Muscles Yankee, unbeaten in seven starts this year, didn’t disappoint as the 1-9 favourite, despite having to leave from the nine-hole, with Brian Sears at the controls.
The overwhelming six length winner (in 1:50.1 at The Meadowlands) of the famed Hambletonian in early August and victor in the recent World Trotting Derby (in 1:52.3 at Duquoin) made it look more than easy.
Parked to the opening quarter in 27.3 set by Photoforwin (Richard Beinhauer), Muscle Hill took over from there, coasting to the half in :56.3, reaching the three-quarters in 1:25.4, before Sears geared him down, even as he widened to win by five and one-quarter lengths in 1:53.3.
Howd That Feel (Jack Moiseyev) edged Tom Cango (John Campbell) for third, with Photoforwin fourth and Duded Up (Steve Condren) fifth. The top five in each elim qualified for the final, with the connections of the two winners getting to select post positions, before the balance of the field is drawn.
“He was pretty handy, no question about it,” said Sears. “He’s got an unbelievable gait. He’s got no wasted motion, gets very high speed. He’s like a sprinter. He can go some big numbers. When you ask him to trot, he can amaze you with how much speed he really has.”
Muscle Hill is trained by Maritimer Gregory Peck for owners Jerry Silva, TLP Stable, Southwind Farm and Muscle Hill Racing. The superstar colt has now banked more than $2.2 million in an almost unblemished career to date.
“It worked out well,” said Peck. “He had an easy trip in Balmoral [when winning the American National]. And last week at DuQuoin, it didn’t look like they were going to race [because of the weather]. I was the guy who suggested Sears leave [for his Canadian driving commitments that night]. Luke McCarthy filled in [driving] and did a good job.
“On Breeders’ Crown day last year, I decided then to try to enjoy it [the pressure] from here on in. It’s been a great ride. He’ll [Muscle Hill] do his usual [this week]. He’ll train mid-week and hopefully be at his best for next week’s final.”
Muscle Hill, who has won 16 races in a row, after losing his career debut, will now follow the hoofprints of the last two champions who flashed their greatness in the Canadian Trotting Classic - Donato Hanover in 2007 and Deweycheatumnhowe in 2008. Both were also Hambo and World Trotting Derby winners and both were also once-beaten going into the Canadian Trotting Classic final.
The second elim appeared to be far more competitive on paper, but Southern Rocketop, the 9-2 third choice, proved a handy winner from the get-go, getting some soft fractions of :27.2 for the opening quarter, :57.1 for the half and 1:26 for three-quarters.
After that, Southern Rocketop and driver Dave Magee had plenty in reserve for the stretch drive, posting a two length score over a troubled Judge Joe (John Campbell) in 1:53.4. Neighsay Hanover (Brian Sears) was third while the 4-5 choice, Explosive Matter (Ron Pierce), making his first start in a month, tired to be fourth. Airzoom Lindy and Jody Jamieson wound up fifth.
Southern Rocketop had chased Muscle Hill his last two trips, finishing third in the American National, almost eight lengths in arrears, but was just a length behind the champ in the World Trotting Derby last week..
“I thought he might be challenged a little bit up the back side, but things worked out really well,” said Magee. “The first couple of races I raced him, he wasn’t at his best, I don’t think. But last week, when he raced against Muscle Hill, was one of his best races. He was really strong to the wire. He’s pretty handy, he’s a fast colt and a pleasure to drive.”
Added trainer Robert Taylor, “We were dealing with some sickness issues for a couple of starts, but he’s kind of coming back now, now back to his A game. Last week at DuQuoin, he started feeling well and he was very good tonight. He’s been good all year up until a couple of races ago. But he’s real versatile.
“We’ll stick to the same program [leading up to the final]. He’ll train in the middle of the week and hopefully come back strong next week [for Saturday’s final].”
It was the 17th career win for Southern Rocketop, a gelded son of Psychic Spirit, owned by Powers Farms of Winchester, Tennessee.