With the date of the 2023 Pepsi North America Cup less than two months away, Trot Insider will profile some of the race's top contenders as horses ready to compete for one of Canadian harness racing's biggest prizes.
At 5-1, El Rey comes in at #2 on the countdown in TROT Magazine's 2023 Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book.
The Captaintreacherous-Mystery Game colt found his groove in the fall of his rookie season, winning four races in a row at The Red Mile including a Kentucky Sire Stakes final. The Riverview Breeding homebred capped off his 12-race campaign with a 1:49.2 career-best victory in the $430,000 Governor’s Cup at The Meadowlands, boosting his bankroll to $284,400 for owners Brittany Farms and El Rey Racing.
Trot Insider caught up with Tony Alagna, co-owner and trainer of El Rey and the colt’s 2013 North America Cup-winning sire, for an update on his stable’s current top-ranked contender.
After his late-season success as a two-year-old, El Rey is back in training and looks poised for a big year ahead as a sophomore.
“We were very high on the horse training down," recalled Alagna. "We thought he had a lot of potential. He didn't start out as good as we had hoped. It took him kind of a while to get in his groove. Sending him down to Kentucky and racing him down there where he could race consistently on a great mile track really helped this horse. I mean, Dexter [Dunn] did a phenomenal job of educating him and kind of teaching him to be a racehorse and it really made all the difference come the end of the year in the Governor's Cup...He really showed people what he could do by the end of the year.
“We put him away in good order and, so far, he's trained back great. So far so good."
Where did you winter him and when did you start back with him?
“He was wintered at Brittany Farms and he came back in on January 15.”
Any noticeable changes in him from when you sent him to turn out to where he is now?
“I would say just normal two-to-three changes. He's a little thicker, he's a little bit taller, he's a little more mature. Other than that, you know, he was in good flesh when we put him away, came back in in good flesh. So, all the things that you would hope he would do from two to three being turned out, he did for us when he came back in.”
What similarities are there between him and his full sister Dont Fence Me In, who’s had an accomplished career in her own right?
“They both have a good attitude. They both have a great gait to them. They get over the ground very well, they're very efficient. You know, they're versatile horses. I should say she's more versatile than him. He kind of showed us that he wants to be a little bit one dimensional last year at the end of the year. I think this year at three, he'll be able to do more things, but last year when we were trying to educate him, we found that he was best if you could just use this one good run and that really made a difference.”
Do you think he'll need to add that versatility in his three-year-old year?
“Yeah, a lot of it last year was just two-year-old mental maturity that kept him from being more versatile. A lot of times if you wound him up, he didn't want to relax, so it was more so the mental than the physical as far as that and we kind of got him into his groove and I think this year he'll be definitely much more versatile.”
Where are you at with him now?
“He’s going to The Meadowlands to train tomorrow (April 29). He’s been in 1:55 at Advantage Training Center.”
What does his early schedule look like?
“Ideally, we'd like to get a qualifier in him in May and then hopefully get one start in him before the N.A. Cup -- that's kind of our game plan.”
Would that one start likely be the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes?
“You know what, it just sort of depends because of the fact that we'll know more after we qualify him what he needs. It's always nice to have the option, that's why we make the majority of ours eligible, because if we need it, it's there, if we don't need it, you know, it's nice to not race the three weeks in a row, but if you needed, it's there.”
What's his dance card looking like after the N.A. Cup?
“Yeah, he's fully staked. He has Kentucky, he has the Hempt at Pocono, he's got everything. He's got plenty on his dance card. It's just a matter of you know...shoot for the N.A. Cup and go from there.”
What is it about him that makes him such a good horse that was able to succeed as much as he did last year?
“That one run that he had last year was as good as any horse out there. He didn't necessarily have to be in the mix early to be able to do a lot of damage. This year at three, he's going to have a few more tricks up his sleeve to be able to go with the good colts week in and week out. But I know that's there, you know, it's just what we needed to do at the time to get him to where we thought he needed to be and that was to race him the way we did, and like I say, this year, I think he'll be a much more versatile horse.”
At what point last year did you think that this was a Grand Circuit top level three-year-old that you'd be having North America Cup discussions on?
“Well, you know, we thought as a two-year-old before he ever qualified he was that kind of horse, it just took him a while to get in the groove where he could show people what he was and just kind of give us faith that he was the kind of horse that we thought he was. In the last couple starts in the Corbin meet at Lexington he got interfered with a couple of times, got pushed wide, and he just kept coming and I think that's what really showed us that he was rounding into the horse we thought he would be. And then going to The Meadowlands and finishing up the year like he did really put the icing on the cake.”
As someone who's obviously done this run before and prepped horses for the N.A. Cup and won the N.A. Cup, how does it feel to have a horse of his caliber that could possibly give you another one of those for your mantle?
“It's great and the other thing is it's important because he was a homebred that, you know, we swing for the fences and spend a lot of money on pacing colts so we better have something in the N.A. Cup every year. It just gives a little faith to the clients that buying the top end colts like we do is going to pay off for us. Even though this is the colt that we're talking about, we have a lot of other colts that we put away early that potentially could be North America Cup type of horses as well.”
How many horses or does he have any stablemates that are also N.A. Cup eligible that you're high on?
“I think we have six in total, and I mean legitimate horses. We have Kopi Luwak and both have won in :49 and change at Lexington and we put him away. Hungry Angel Boy, you know, who was the favourite up there in Canada, in the series up there, the Dream Maker -- he won a leg of the Dream Maker -- and that horse has come back well. We have a colt named Dupree Hanover that was second in his first lifetime start in :51. Stormalong won his elimination of the Governor's Cup. We've got a lot of colts that have the potential to be North America Cup type of horses as well.”
You’re somebody who has won the North America Cup. You’ve won the Hambletonian. You’ve won the Little Brown Jug. You’ve won the Meadowlands Pace and Breeders Crowns galore. What's on your bucket list still or what do you want to do now that you've obviously accomplished a lot at such a young age?
“We've won the majority of the classics. My biggest thing now is just hopefully to continue developing horses that have potential to be stallions. I was very happy last year with the fact, even though we didn't have a superstar, we had a well-rounded barn. We had a lot of horses that made five, six, seven-hundred thousand, and that's good for the clients. Everybody wants a superstar. Believe me, I'm fighting for a superstar every year, but it's nice when you have a lot of horses that make a lot of money. That's just as important.”
Previous 2023 TROT Magazine Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book profiles: