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Bittersweet Weekend For Takter

Published: May 31, 2020 10:29 am ET

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It's the time of the year that the harness racing world usually focuses its attention on Solvalla Racecourse in Sweden for the Elitlopp, with many of the world's top trotters competing in the two-heat classic. Trainer Nancy Takter is also thinking about the Elitlopp, but also wondering 'what if?'

She's thrilled to be back in action, having won six qualifiers during the re-opening of The Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday (May 30). She's very pleased with the performances of many of her 17 Saturday entrants. But the effort of trotting star Manchego during that Saturday session can only conjure what-if scenarios that would have -- ideally -- targeted Manchego to gain entry to the 2020 Elitlopp.

"It's unfortunate, but it's unfortunate for the race in general. To run the Elitlopp without a crowd...the Swedish fans look forward to that all year, it's a hell of a party for them and it's a great day and people just love the racing and this virus took that away from them," Takter told Trot Insider on Saturday afternoon. "And not only that, the quality of the field would have been better too had we not been battling this virus.

"When Dexter [Dunn] came back, we looked at each other and it was like 'yeah, we should have been at the Elitlopp...we should be in Sweden at Solvalla. We should have been having dinner and getting prepared for the big day right now instead of qualifying this horse.'"

Dreams aside, the reality is that North American harness racing surely took note of Manchego's effort on Saturday at the Meadowlands. Dexter Dunn pointed the world champion to the front and dared anyone to challenge. After that, one of two things happened: either no one would, or no one could. Through fractions of :28.4, :57.2 and 1:25.2, no rivals came closer than two lengths and that's as close as they'd get as Manchego sprinted home in :27.3 to win by more than six lengths over a North American-debuting Felicityshagwell S (Ake Svanstedt) in 1:53.

A winner of 27 races and more than $2.2. million in purses, Manchego (Muscle Hill - Secret Magic) is owned by Black Horse Racing. Her lifetime mark of 1:49 makes her the second fastest trotter in harness racing history.

"She was super. She races usually with closed blinkers, but today I just put blinkers with holes on her just to keep her kind of relaxed," said Takter after Saturday's mammoth qualifying session. "She just loves her work. Just watch her race...she's the perfect horse to have all these people that say that horse don't like their job...just watch her race, how could you ever say that horse doesn't love the work that she does.

"Dexter was super happy with her. And she was totally under wraps, he didn't pull the plugs on her and like I said, she's a little sharper with the closed blinkers on her."

The first stakes test for Manchego will be the Miss Versatility at The Meadowlands, but Takter hasn't decided yet if she'll qualify once more or drop the star trotter right into the entry box.

Saturday's marathon qualifying session at The Meadowlands featured a number of winners from the Takter stable. Winners included three-year-old trotting colt Panem (1:56.1, Dexter Dunn driving), sophomore pacing colt No Lou Zing (1:53.2, Josert Fonseca up) and four-year-old pacing mare JK American Beauty (1:52 for Yannick Gingras). The most notable performers, however, were talented females Manchego, JK First Lady and Kissin In The Sand.

Pacing filly JK First Lady may have raced in the shadow of divisional winners Lyons Sentinel and Alicorn last year but showed she's ready to rumble with a sharp 1:51.1 mile in her sophomore debut for Takter and driver Yannick Gingras.

"Last year she always had a lot of speed but she became her own worst enemy. In the Breeders Crown she was way too grabby and she became a little bit unmanageable, so I didn't turn her our this year. She stayed in training right after the Three Diamonds through now."

Takter and her team worked with the regally-bred pacing filly, sitting her behind horses more and the work seems to have paid off.

"Today she was nice and quiet and relaxed, and Yannick was very happy with her and how she sat in the hole. My least worry about her is her going forward because she wants to be a good horse, and she showed that today."

The homebred daughter of Western Ideal and 2014 Horse of the Year JK Shesalady, JK First Lady is owned by 3 Brothers Stable. She banked $372,015 as a two-year-old with a mark of 1:49.2 taken at The Meadowlands -- a track record and the second fastest mile time for a two-year-old pacing filly.

Kissin In The Sand faced 2019 U.S. Horse of the Year Shartin N and 2019 O'Brien Award winner Caviart Ally in the majority of her four-year-old starts, but made a statement in her five-year-old debut by defeating caviart Ally in a wire-to-wire 1:50.4 effort.

"She started off the year a little shaky last year, which a lot of four-year-olds do. Racing older horses is different...amd maybe it just took her some time to get going again at four. But at the end of the season it was Caviart Ally and Shartin battling for the #1 position, and she finished the year right behind them.

"I think she likes to be on the front end and control her destiny a little bit, which is a little harder at the beginning of the season because Shartin and Caviart Ally would leave the gate so hard and get a jump on her, and it's hard to make up a jump like that on mares like those two. And at the end of the year, those two mares were trading places a little bit so maybe they'll mix it up a little bit more this year and it might put Kissin In The Sand in a little bit better of a position in those races."

Owned by Marvin Katz and Hatfield Stables, Kissin In The Sand (Somebeachsomewhere - Kiss Me Kate) sports a 19-10-6 summary from 46 career starts with more than $1.3 million in earnings.

Takter also spoke highly of the organization that went into the Saturday qualifying session at The Meadowlands, clearly not an easy task when dealing with that number of horses and people in a new environment dealing with different protocols.

"Everything went really smoothly, everybody did what they were supposed to do. It was a big help that they grouped all the horses by trainer in the paddock, especially for me because I had so many in and we're limited on staff. As far as checking in and everybody having their paperwork, everybody was on the ball."

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