Five-year-old male trotter Venerate, a Dan Patch Award winner in 2020 at the age of two, will make his seasonal debut for new trainer Marcus Melander when he meets 10 rivals in Saturday’s $155,200 Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at The Meadowlands.
The Cutler, named in memory of the famed restauranteur and harness racing enthusiast who passed away in 1997 at the age of 53, is the season’s first Grand Circuit event for older trotters. Bella Bellini, the returning Trotter of the Year, is the 5-2 morning-line favourite in the field of 11. The five-year-old mare, who will start from post four for driver Dexter Dunn and trainer 'Nifty' Norman, is the only female in the race.
Venerate, who counted the inaugural Mohawk Million among his wins as a two-year-old, raced for trainers Julie Miller and Carter Pinske his first three seasons and was owned by Pinske Stables, Andy Miller Stable Inc., and Diamond Creek Racing.
The stallion sold for $410,000 at last November’s Standardbred Horse Sale mixed sale and is now owned by Courant Inc., the Melander family’s Holly Lane Stud East Ltd., Kemppi Stables Oy Inc., and Venerate Partners. Kemppi Stable was co-breeder of Venerate, a son of Love You-Peaceful Kemp, with Steve Stewart.
“Of course, he has some stud value when he’s done racing, but hopefully we can have some fun with him first in these open [events],” said Melander. “All my three-year-olds turning four went to stud or went overseas, so we didn’t really have anyone in that division. I’m happy to have him because it’s nice to have horses in those races.”
Venerate, the winner of 11 of 32 career races and $1.1 million in purses, qualified twice in preparation for the Cutler. In the first, on April 29 at The Meadowlands, he was timed in 1:56.3 over a sloppy surface in a second-place finish behind Bella Bellini. On May 13, he stopped the clock in 1:51.2 as he won by seven lengths with driver Brian Sears.
“The first one, he was OK, he looked strong over the wire, but I wasn’t really thrilled with his gait over the wire,” said Melander. “He lost a shoe in that qualifier and he wasn’t perfect. The second qualifier was a lot better, so I was happy with that. The most important thing to me, even if he went :51, was how he looked. He looked good. He looked strong.”
Venerate is eligible for many of the sport’s Grand Circuit races for older trotters including the Crawford Farms Open, John Cashman Memorial, Maple Leaf Trot, Caesars Trotting Classic, Dayton Trotting Derby and Breeders Crown.
“The horse was sound and fresh when we got him and we just put him in our program,” said Melander. “So far so good. I like his attitude. He seems to want to do it. Even when he didn’t trot his best gait-wise in the first qualifier for me, he still kept trotting all the way.
“He’s been feeling great training down here and hopefully he will continue to improve. We’re just going to take it one start at a time. Hopefully, we’ve got him figured out. It’s a lot of races down the road. It will be exciting.”
Venerate will start the Cutler from post one and is 9-2 on the morning line.
The second choice in the race is Its Academic, who is listed at 3-1. The six-year-old stallion will start from post five for driver David Miller and trainer Ron Burke. He is one of two Burke entrants, along with Hillexotic (5-1).
Ake Svanstedt, who trained and drove last year’s Cutler winner, Ecurie D DK, has three horses in this year’s event: Rattle My Cage (8-1), Incommunicado (12-1) and Ambassador Hanover (8-1).
Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EDT) at The Meadowlands. Races will air live on Fox Sports 2 from 8-11 p.m. A free TrackMaster programs for the Saturday card of harness racing can be found here.