Freshmen Standardbreds of each gait and sex competed in their final Grand Circuit contest of the season with the Fall Final Four — composed of the Goldsmith Maid, Valley Victory, Three Diamonds and Governor's Cup — on Saturday night (Nov. 26) at The Meadowlands.
Below are recaps from each of the rich stakes finals on the undercard of the TVG Free For All Championships:
Bond soars to victory in Goldsmith Maid
Trainer-driver Åke Svanstedt soared to the top from post nine with Bond and was not challenged throughout to win the $475,400 Goldsmith Maid, for two-year-old trotting fillies.
The thrilling daughter of Southwind Frank took on nine of the division’s other top fillies with aplomb when the gate unfolded, and the rest of the field aimed to keep Svanstedt from steering towards the pylons. Heart On Fire got closest as Bond floated to a :26.4 first panel while Mambacita and longshot Blonde Bombshell lined up behind them. Bond cut the half in :56.2.
Places did not change as the trio behind Bond struggled to keep up. Even with the quick half and some commotion caused by Brunella breaking stride in midfield, Bond torpedoed her lead with three-quarters in 1:26.3 and maintained two lengths of clearance to win in 1:54. Blonde Bombshell closed well up the pylons, but was eclipsed late by Mambacita, who showed her best stride on the outside to finish second. The public’s second choice, Heart On Fire, finished fourth.
"I've got to give all the credit to Sarah and Åke [Svanstedt],” said co-owner Jeff Gural of Little E LLC. “They told me this was a good horse. They said, 'We have a plan.' I said, 'You know plans never work out in this business,' but it worked out. I've been doing this 40 years and I think it's the first plan that ever worked exactly how the trainer said it would work."
Bond, who paid $2.80 to win, earned her sixth consecutive win and her seventh in nine career starts. She has earned $587,264 for Åke Svanstedt Inc., Little E LLC and L. Berg Inc.
Stakes record for Volume Eight in Valley Victory
Volume Eight and driver Andy McCarthy didn’t have their A-game heading into the $416,200 Valley Victory final at The Meadowlands, but the two-year-old son of Chapter Seven was more than good enough to win the event for colts and geldings decisively with a stakes-record 1:52.2 mile.
“He didn’t have the best of weeks,” said trainer Noel Daley. “He was much better heading into the Kindergarten final.”
Despite Daley’s concerns, McCarthy guided the 3-5 betting choice smartly from post nine, leaving slowly while Up Your Deo and Åke Svanstedt assumed quick command followed by Kimmeridgian and Tim Tetrick. Kilmister and Brian Sears were next to get the lead at the :27.2 first quarter with McCarthy laying in wait. Volume Eight rolled to the front at the three-eighths and more than intimidated those in the rear, cutting the half in :56.4 and waiting for the outer flow to commence.
Second choice Celebrity Bambino, runner-up in the Breeders Crown in October, went on the offensive for Yannick Gingras during the third quarter, with Upstaged and Purple Lord following second- and third-over, respectively. Celebrity Bambino wasn’t making much progress as McCarthy rated the three-quarters in 1:25.2 and began the sprint home.
Celebrity Bambino stalled and eventually lost his action in the stretch when he broke stride, and that paved the way for Kimmeridgian to angle out of the three-hole and mount an offensive. Volume Eight hardly flinched with the challenge and simply kept rolling to the wire, trotting his final quarter in :27. Kimmeridgian held on for second with Kilmister third. Up You Deo and Upstaged completed the top five.
Now a winner seven times in nine starts this year, Volume Eight returned $3.20 to win.
Noel Daley and Sjoblom Racing, Joe Sbrocco, LA Express & JAF Racing, and Mario Mazza share ownership in Volume Eight, who was bred by the late Bob Key.
“He’s a serious horse,” said Daley. “He’s the best two-year-old I’ve ever had.”
Daley had high praise for his potential 2023 Hambletonian favourite: “The mile he went in the Kindergarten was as good as any two-year-old trotting mile I’ve ever seen.”
Zanatta zooms to Three Diamonds score
Zanatta and driver Daniel Dubé took advantage of hurried shuffling and a strong first-over attack to win the $428,400 Three Diamonds, for two-year-old pacing fillies.
Zanatta, who won the Three Diamonds elimination in 1:52, was against 2-5 Strong Poison in the 10-horse field. The Stay Hungry-Major Dancer filly sat fourth early and rushed to the front after Bellisima Hanover and Vivians Dream fought for the top spot through a sizzling :26.4 first quarter.
The shuffling burned the clock more as Strong Poison took to the outside and took the lead into the :54.4 half. Zanatta was full of pace coming into the second turn, passing the favourite and the mid-race competition, leaving them to catch their breaths in a 1:22.2 three-quarters.
Zanatta owned the stretch from there, finishing the mile in 1:50.1. Vivians Dream sustained the followers to finish second, 1-1/2 lengths behind, and Cultured rallied from farther back for third.
Jennifer Bongiorno trains Zanatta, who won for the third time in 11 starts at two and lifted her earnings to $393,160, for the One Legend Stable.
"We've known we have a really nice filly since the beginning,” said Bongiorno. "Honestly, her baby races were incredible. Her whole time training down, she was so good. Last week, with Lasix, I knew she could surprise everyone. She showed everyone [she is] the filly we know. She's honestly better than she's ever been."
Michael Côté Gagnon, co-owner, said, "Zanatta was my first choice filly last year [as a yearling]. It's something really special when you find that baby and see them develop early in their career. Jenn convinced me to keep her on the track for the Three Diamonds and she was right. And [her brother Joe] did an amazing job [training with her], and my great friend Danny Dubé, who is there in replacement of Joe tonight.”
Zanatta paid $13.40 to win.
El Rey Reigns In Governor’s Cup
Tony Alagna pupil El Rey burst onto the scene last week with a third-place finish in the Governor’s Cup elimination and affirmed his kingship with a catapulting move over his peers to take the $430,000 Governor’s Cup final, a race for two-year-old pacing colts and geldings.
Combustion powered to the lead through a :26.3 first quarter to pocket fellow elimination winner Stormalong to the backstretch. Ammo then shot from fourth and grabbed the lead before a :54 half. The tempo remained steady to three-quarters as Ammo rolled by the pole in 1:21.4 with Combustion looming from the pocket and Cant Stop Lou in behind.
Ammo remained resolute towards the pylons while facing Combustion’s challenge to the eighth pole. Combustion ground enough into Ammo to take a narrow lead in the lane while driver Scott Zeron emerged from the backfield with El Rey. Revved and ready to roll, El Rey soared over his competitors to defeat Combustion by a neck in a 1:49.2 mile. Ammo settled for third and Cant Stop Lou took fourth.
“The pace was really hot up front and my horse just has an amazing explosive burst down the lane,” said Scott Zeron after the race. “I knew, middle of the last turn, he was still really on the bit and ready to get at it, and that’s when I was most confident.”
“We were waiting for the light to go on and he did that a couple starts ago. Since then, Tony’s got him on the right path and we’re excited,” said co-owner Steve Head of El Rey, who was entered and then pulled from the Harrisburg Mixed Sale earlier in November. “We knew he had a lot of talent, a lot of speed early. But he had to put it all together, and Tony and the team got it.”
El Rey has now won five races from 12 starts and deposited to an account worth $284,400. Brittany Farms LLC and El Rey Racing own the son of Captaintreacherous, who paid $5.20 to win.
A LITTLE MORE: Dexter Dunn, bidding for fourth straight Dan Patch Driver of the Year Award, might have locked up that honour by winning three (Mares Trot, Open Trot and Open Pace) of the TVG Championships. Niki Hill was second in the Mares Pace, preventing Dunn from sweeping all four events. He finished the night with a driver-colony best four victories. Ake Svanstedt and Jenn Bongiorno both recorded training doubles.
With pool guarantees upped 50 per cent to $75,000, both 50-cent Pick 4s were popular with players. The Early Pick 4 took in $135,276 worth of action, while $106,591 was bet on the Late Pick 4. The 10th race, featuring Bulldog Hanover, took the most action of the night when $403,979 was pushed through the windows.
All-source handle totalled $3,398,962 on the 14-race card.
Racing resumes Thursday (Dec. 1) – the final Thursday on the 2022 Big M calendar – at 6:20 p.m. (EST).
(with files from The Meadowlands)