Tim Tetrick heads into the FanDuel Open Pace on Saturday, Nov. 25 at The Meadowlands with a rare and legitimate shot at making harness racing history. Yannick Gingras has every intention of playing the spoiler.
While there's a distinct element of rarity in these stars that aligned to pit these two Hall of Fame drivers against each other, the circumstances are not unique.
Rewind harness racing's time machine to 2013 for a minute. The first edition of the FanDuel Championship was known as the TVG Free-For-All at that time. And that first edition was blessed with a dream matchup: the best sophomore pacer on the continent, facing off against the grizzled veterans of the older pacing ranks.
The hype surrounding Captaintracherous vs. Foiled Again was virtually palpable. Two Breeders Crown winners. Two of the sport's top-ranked competitors; in fact, at that time, the two highest ranked male pacers in North America.
Make no mistake, this wasn't a two-horse race. Foiled Again was the Breeders Crown winner of that year and the top ranked older pacer at the time, but Pet Rock came into the TVG on Saturday, Nov. 30 having defeated Foiled Again in the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby on Nov. 1 and the American National on Nov. 9.
Pet Rock was sent off as the 6-5 betting choice from post three, one spot to the inside of second choice Foiled Again and driver Yannick Gingras. Captaintreacherous drew post eight for driver Tim Tetrick in a field that also included world champions Bolt The Duer, Sweet Lou and Warrawee Needy, the accomplished Golden Receiver and Bettors Edge, and future millionaires Modern Legend and Dynamic Youth.
"That was a great field, actually," said Gingras in a recent conversation with Trot Insider. "That year it was not just Captaintreacherous and Foiled Again, there's many others. But it was a great race, the horse raced tremendous. He beat Captain, obviously, but he beat them all, you know, so it was impressive."
Gingras crossed the wire with his hand raised in victory; a celebratory fist-pump that illustrated the magnitude of the inaugural TVG event, a race that capped Foiled Again's best year for earnings — $1.409 million — and race record — 1:48f — at the age of nine.
"First of all, I want to win them all, but it definitely meant a lot. You know what I mean? It capped a tremendous year."
Captaintreacherous finished sixth for Tetrick, beaten two lengths with the first nine finishers within four lengths of Foiled Again. Valiant in defeat, Captaintreacherous did in fact repeat as U.S. Pacer of the Year in 2013 after a season with a 13-2-0 summary from 16 starts and more than $2 million in earnings.
"Well, Captaintreacherous was a power horse whenever I drove him in his three-year-old group," noted Tetrick. "He was always pretty much in control or moving to the lead all the time. I rarely raced him from off the pace. There was a lot of pressure there all the time...Most of the time, he got to the lead and toughed it out.
"That aged group had Foiled Again and I think [trainer Ron] Burke had like a three-pronged attack that day in the TVG, and I knew I wasn't going to get my way on the front. I think I was second over and you know, the fractions weren't really fair enough. I don't think [Captaintreacherous] disgraced himself, I don't think he lost an inch to any of them, but he just didn't gain on them."
The similarities between the 2013 TVG Free-For-All and the much-anticipated 2023 FanDuel Open Pace cannot be ignored.
Tim Tetrick comes into the race with the upstart three-year-old and the top ranked pacer in North America. Yannick Gingras appears to have the top older pacer as part of a Ron Burke trio.
Confederate drew post nine on Saturday night for the $350,000 FanDuel Open Pace, a race that has been announced as the final race of his career before retiring. The son of Sweet Lou - Geothermal has won his last 11 races and 13 of 14 starts this year for trainer Brett Pelling and owner Diamond Creek Racing, just missing by a diminishing head to Its My Show in the 2023 Pepsi North America Cup.
The second choice on morning line at 7-2, Confederate faces nine rivals including the "now horse" in the older pacing ranks, four-year-old Bythemissal. The 2023 Breeders Crown winner, guaranteed an inside draw as the series points leader, drew post three for driver Gingras and trainer Burke. He's the 3-2 morning line favourite.
While Captaintreacherous made his name and his money off front-end tactics, Confederate is quite the opposite. In his 14 pari-mutuel starts this year, he's been on top at the first quarter only once — that coming in his North America Cup elimination on June 10. In his 21-start career, he has two wire-to-wire wins on paper.
"This year, I feel...not more confident because they're both great horses, but my horse has learned to race off the pace and knows how to go attack one," said Tetrick in terms of facing the likes of Bythemissal. "Second over, that's his bread and butter. If I could ever be in that spot, or if I can make Bythemissal do the work and I follow him, I think I could rip his bridle off.
"I don't think I can go out and get beat up and still win," Tetrick continued. "He can do it on the lead but I can't have four horses going after him."
As accomplished as this group is, that's a fair assessment for any horse in this stakes race. While Confederate sports the fastest win time this season at 1:46.1, making him the fastest three-year-old pacer in harness racing history, this is a field full of 1:47 pacers that show sub-:26 final quarters. One month ago, Tattoo Artist had the divisional title in his grasp. He's now the 4-1 third choice on the morning line for driver Louis-Philippe Roy and stateside conditioner Chris Ryder.
With that said, Tetrick's confidence in Confederate could be considered contagious. When asked if the sport has seen the best this colt can offer, the driving ace replied quickly and assertively with a hypothetical situation that looped in last year's Horse of the Year and fastest Standardbred of all time, Bulldog Hanover.
"No! I don't think so. I mean, if I had Bulldog [Hanover] out there on the front and I followed him, I don't think he'd feel very comfortable turning for home with me on his back."
Confederate did cut all the fractions in his most recent appearance, a 1:51.2 qualifying mile at The Meadowlands on Saturday, Nov. 18.
"It was windy, you know, he did all the work, we went :28, :28, :28 and :27 home into the wind," said Tetrick. "Brett said, 'Were you happy?' I'm like 'heck yeah, I was happy. He was good.' He goes, 'he'll be nine times better come Saturday.' He said his horse is going to breathe fire on Saturday. I was excited about that."
A win over older horses in a race with the magnitude of the TVG / FanDuel would certainly place Confederate in rarefied air. The last time a three-year-old male pacer knocked off older rivals in a stakes-calibre event of this stature came some 43 years ago in the 1980 American Pacing Classic at Hollywood Park. The winner of that 1-1/8 mile race was the legendary Niatross.
Only one other sophomore pacing colt has tested the TVG waters: Bettors Wish, who finished second to Always A Prince in the 2019 TVG Free-For-All.
Always A Prince was driven to victory by none other than Yannick Gingras, who seeks his third win in the series with Bythemissal on Saturday.
A four-year-old son of Downbytheseaside - Dismissal, Bythemissal sports a 11-1-1 summary from 15 starts this year for trainer Ron Burke and owners Burke Racing Stable LLC, Eric Good, Rich Lombardo Racing LLC and Weaver Bruscemi LLC. He sports a mark of 1:47.1 taken at The Meadowlands, and he's won his four most recent appearances — the Allerage at the Red Mile, his Breeders Crown elimination and final at Harrah's Hoosier Park and Potomac Pace at Rosecroft.
"I think the Canadian Pacing Derby elimination is probably the best start he's ever had for me. He was tremendous that day," noted Gingras. "You know, he was good in the final as well. Tattoo Artist just came up so big that night — you have to give credit to the other horse sometimes as well — but other than that race in the Pacing Derby, I think he's as good now as I've had him all year.
"At Rosecroft, he jogged. I mean, like, I never really even asked him and he won very easy. So I think he's coming into this race really sharp, really good. I'm super confident."
Don't think for a second this confidence Gingras exudes in any way equates to underestimating the competition. No, Bythemissal and Confederate haven't raced before. But Gingras has driven other horses in 12 of Confederate's 14 sophomore starts, and knows his competition isn't just another divisional leader.
"Confederate has been sharp all year, really," added Gingras. "He's a great horse. And you know, I'm not taking it lightly. But it's going to be new for him, right? The other [three-year-olds], they can't sprint with them, they can't go with him. It's definitely going to be a big test for him.
"I certainly hope I beat him. But, like I said, it's going to be a test and hopefully for them, he passes it and hopefully for us, he finishes second."
Regardless of the outcome, Gingras commended the connections of Confederate for stepping up to enter a race of this stature when many in the industry would agree that the colt has already clinched U.S. Horse of the Year honours.
"I think it's great for the sport. I mean, we're talking today because of it. It's bringing attention to harness racing, and I think it's great for them to give him a chance. They could have just taken the easy route and retired him...even though I think they know they have nothing to lose. So it's probably part of the reason why they tried it."
Confederate is just one of four three-year-olds whose connections have taken the chance on facing older rivals in the FanDuels on Saturday. Tactical Approach (Open Trot), Twin B Joe Fresh (Open Mare Pace) and Bond (Open Mare Trot) will compete on Saturday to mark the first time since 2019 (Gimpanzee, Bettors Wish, Beautiful Sin and Warrawee Ubeaut) that all four TVG / FanDuel finals have featured three-year-olds.
The Open Trot is the only TVG / FanDuel division with three-year-old winners: What The Hill in 2017 and Tactical Landing in 2019.
"This year is going to be a little different," added Gingras. "It's going to make it interesting."
Tetrick agreed, noting that the timing and the open nature of the FanDuel finals add to the electricity of the last major stakes race of the year.
"I'm a fan, I'm excited to be in them but I'm excited to watch too," said Tetrick before adding, "I'd rather have the best horse and get a chance to win."
First race post time on Saturday is 6:20 p.m. (EST), with the FanDuel Championships sharing the spotlight with the Fall Four for freshmen. For complete entries, click here. For a free TrackMaster program for the stakes-packed card, click here.
(Photo credits: Tim Tetrick, Yannick Gingras and Bythemissal: New Image Media. Confederate: KKD Photography)