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Trot N.A. Cup Spring Book: #8

Published: April 10, 2018 3:07 pm ET

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The countdown to the 2018 Pepsi North America Cup is on, with Trot Magazine profiling the horses predicted to be the top contenders for Canadian harness racing's richest prize.

At 20-1, Hitman Hill comes in at #8 in Trot Magazine's 2018 Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book.

Owned by Tom Hill of Hamilton, Ont. and Northfork Racing Stable, Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Hitman Hill was nearly flawless as a freshman with six wins in seven starts and $146,533 in earnings. Trot Insider caught up with trainer Chris Oakes for an update on the speedy son of American Ideal.

Where did he winter?

“He went to North Carolina for three months then after that he came to the South Florida Trotting Center.”

When did you start back with him?

“He came in around the first of the year, somewhere in the middle of January.”

Where are you at with him right now? (as of April 5)

“We went around 2:10 the other day, so he’s probably about a month away.”

Have you noticed any changes from last year to this year?

“He’s a little bigger and stronger, but he was already a kind of big, strong two-year-old; a good-looking horse. [He’s] a little more mature and has filled out nicely.”

When will he qualify?

“Early May, first week of May, he’ll qualify at Pocono. He’ll qualify probably two times, then he’s got a sires stakes at Vernon a week before the elimination, so I’ll race him two qualifiers and maybe one time or two times at the most before we head to Canada.”

What will his early schedule look like leading up to the Pepsi North America Cup?

“I don’t want to over race him; he went in 1:50 his second start lifetime at Vernon, so he told me he didn’t need to work a lot. He’s just a natural; he can go fast. I want to have him lightly-raced going into [the North America Cup]. How he races at Vernon will determine whether he goes [to the North America Cup].

“Obviously, I’m expecting him to go...he’s a really good horse. He’s only lost one time and that’s because he was sick. We scoped him after the [New York Sires Stakes final] and he was full of mucous and pus. But he didn’t have a temperature, so we decided to race him. The groom called and told me ‘He never touched his breakfast’ the morning of, I was kind of suspicious and he didn’t have a temperature, so we obviously can’t scope him in the paddock before you race him so we decided to go with him and he was flat.

“I just turned him out and quit with him after that, instead of going to the Breeders Crown. He was eligible, but I thought it was better to just shut him down cause I thought ‘He’s a two-year-old, he’s done enough at this point.’ He paid his purchase price back, so I figured just give him time, let him heal up and we’d have a great three-year-old coming back next year.”

What does his tentative schedule look like after the North America Cup?

“He’s in everything. The only thing I didn’t put him in was the Meadowlands Pace because I can’t race there in a Meadowlands-sponsored race. But he’s in all the other stuff -- Little Brown Jug, Breeders Crown, pretty much everything. It’s not a bad thing...we’ll have basically a two-or-three-week layover [after the Hempt]. Home for him is Pocono, that’s where I have my own farm. He’ll be home there and should have an easy time about it with no shipping. It’s a long year; to do that [well] week in and week out at that level is completely brutal. We’ll have to give him a break some point in the year and there seems as good a time as any.”

At what point last year did you think this horse was North America Cup material?

“After his second start at Vernon when he went [1]:50. They were giving two seconds that night, two seconds were allowed. Brett Miller drove him and he was literally shaking in the winner’s circle saying ‘This is some kind of horse.’ I kind of knew he was a nice horse...I figured he’d pace probably in [1]:51, [1]:52 easy enough that night, but aw man, [he went 1]:50. And again, the track was terrible that night. [He] came first over and just annihilated them.

“Then he went to Batavia after that and went in [1]:52 over that track, set a track record. Came home in :27 and never even pulled the plugs. He got a little hot at the end of the year; he started getting a little aggressive, because, when racing on all those half-mile tracks, you’ve got to be on or near the lead. And by the time the end of the year rolled around, he thought that was what he was supposed to do all the time. We tried to quiet him down and reprogram him...he’s got an open bridle now. He’s just sitting last every training trip and pacing home real well, so the main thing is I want to keep him quiet, relaxed and teach him how to be a good horse.”

What's his biggest asset/strength?

"I think he’s got three lungs. He just doesn’t get tired...he can go fast and go fast a long time. Nothing bothers him that way. He could go stupid quarters and, how another horse could curl up, he doesn’t even think about it; no problems.”

Where does the Pepsi North America Cup sit on the bucket list of races you'd like to win?

“It’s right up near the top; it’s got one heck of a trophy. Canada’s a great place to race. Everybody’s always treated me very well there. The people are good and I have a lot of friends up there. It’s a nice race for sure to be in but it’s also a nice race to win.”

Previous Profiles:

Trot N.A. Cup Spring Book: #9
Trot N.A. Cup Spring Book: #10

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