The Saturday afternoon qualifying session at The Meadowlands looked more like a Grand Circuit card sporting five millionaires, multiple stakes-winning standouts and the much-anticipated debut of an international star.
Six qualifiers were contested, with three for each gait. The fastest mile of the session came on the trot in the third dash, with an eight-horse field sporting a stellar group of older trotters that included Grand Circuit stakes winners Back Of The Neck, Chin Chin Hall and Play Trix On me, millionaire Lindy The Great, double millionaire Crystal Fashion and harness racing's fastest female trotter Manchego.
Crystal Fashion didn't qualify on Saturday, dropping that field to a group of seven. Of those seven, Lindy The Great (Andy Miller) was swiftest off the gate and fronted Back Of The Neck (Ake Svanstedt), Chin Chin Hall (David Miller), Play Trix On Me (Scott Zeron) and Manchego (Dexter Dunn) through fractions of :28.1 and :57 before Zeron moved first up from fourth to start the outer flow.
The third station was reached in 1:25.2 with Lindy The Great and Miller holding a length-plus advantage on the appropriately-named pocket-sitter Back Of The Neck. The tempo turned up in the stretch, with Svanstedt angling out of the pocket to take a run at the leader while Dunn allowed Manchego to find another gear and set sail. In the final strides, Back Of The Neck was a neck better than Lindy The Great, with the mile timed in a sharp 1:51.4 -- just a tick off his 1:51.3 lifetime mark. Manchego finished third, four and a half lengths back of the leader with her final quarter charted in a sizzling :25.3, followed by Play Trix On Me and Chin Chin Hall.
Back Of The Neck (Ready Cash - Big Barb) is owned by trainer Svanstedt along with Howard Taylor of Philadelphia, Penn., Judith Taylor of Bala Cynwyd, Penn. and Order By Stable of Boras, Sweden.
North America Cup-eligible Somewhereinverona made his sophomore debut in style, winning his test in a life's best 1:52 for driver David Miller and trainer Blake MacIntosh. The grey son of Somebeachsomewhere - Northern Duchess sat the pocket behind pacesetter A Fearsome Hanover (A. Miller) through fractions of :27.3, :57 and 1:25.2 before sprinting home in :26.1 for the three-quarter length score.
A two-time winner from 10 tries as a freshmman, Somewhereinverona banked just north of $56,000 for MacIntosh and co-owners Petitpas Stables Ltd & Ozzie Mackay of Moncton, N.B. and Gilles Landry of Dieppe, N.B.
The fifth qualifier of the session featured 2020 sophomore stakes winners No Lou Zing and Fortify in four-year-old debuts for trainer Nancy Takter, speedy Breeders Crown winner American History and Filibuster Hanover, the accomplished veteran nearing his second million. However, import Justasec N was unfazed by the competition and found the wire first in his initial stateside test. Andy Miller guided the six-year-old downunder-bred son of Big Jim - Triple Sec to a 1:52 victory, more than lengths better than No Lou Zing (Dunn) with American History (Andy McCarthy) four lengths back. Kevin Lare trains Justasec N for Arrhythmic LLC of West Seneca, N.Y.
Sophomore Ill Drink To That was a wire-to-wire winner in 1:52.4 for Team Ryder -- son Patrick and father Chris -- in the final qualifier of the session, holding off the late charge of Beyond Words N (Dunn) by three parts of a length. With a :25.3 final panel, five-year-old Beyond Words N (Art Major - Quote Me) showed the kind of ability that made her of the most highly-regarded competitors in New Zealand last year. She emerged last August to win at the hands of then co-trainer Mark Purdon before her downunder career with five wins from nine starts including a Grade 1 Queen of Hearts victory over stablemate and subsequent Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream. Nifty Norman now trains for owner Richard Poillucci of South Easton, Mass.
To view the charts from the Saturday qualifiying session at The Meadowlands, click the following link: Saturday Results - Meadowlands (Qualifiers).