A number of talented performers peppered the Friday (May 5) qualifying session at The Meadowlands, with both returning stars from 2022 and potential emerging stars for 2023 making waves with their efforts.
Cool Papa Bell is now two-for-two in qualifying action at the start of his four-year-old campaign. The 2022 Dan Patch Award winner kicked off the qualifying action on Friday morning with a 1:54.1 score. Timestorm (Andy McCarthy) fronted a field of four through fractions of :29, :57.3 and 1:26.2. Andy's brother Todd was sitting third with Cool Papa Bell throughout, then angled off the pylons in the stretch.
Slay (Joe Bongiorno) nudged his way from the pocket to make it a three-horse dash to the line but Cool Papa Bell lived up to his speedy moniker and sprinted home fastest. A :27.3 final panel was the deciding factor in a 1:54.2 mile, with Slay a length back in second.
Owned by Runthetable Stables of New Jersey and trained by Jim Campbell, Cool Papa Bell (Chapter Seven - Blk Thai Optional) sports a mark of 1:51.3 — taken in his historic 2022 Hambletonian victory — along with a seven-figure bankroll.
Another notable participant from the 2022 Hambletonian Day card clocked the fastest qualifying mile on the trot during the Friday session. Instagram Model, the 2022 Jim Doherty Memorial winner, made her first appearance of the season and her connections certainly smashed that like button after her performance.
Driver Scott Zeron left stoutly with Instagram Model, then allowed Heart On Fire (T. McCarthy) to clear around the opening turn with Mambacita (Yannick Gingras) pressing on to shuffle the early leader back to third. Those three trotted along through fractions of :28.3, :57.1 and 1:25.3. In the stretch, all three fillies had clear sailing to the wire with a :27.1 final quarter from Instagram Model getting her a neck the best in a photo finish, followed by Heart On Fire and Mambacita.
Annie Stoebe trains Instagram Model (Chapter Seven - Check Out Trixie) for Pennsylvania-based owner Lynn Curry. The filly sports five wins from eight freshman appearances with $263,817 in earnings.
A pair of Pepsi North America Cup-eligible pacing colts — both campaigned by former N.A. Cup winning trainers — shared the top of the leaderboard with the fastest miles of the morning.
The third dash of the morning featured a quartet from the Tony Alagna stable in addition to the highly-touted Nancy Takter trainee Save America. Emerging victorious after a three-hole trip was Stormalong and driver Jordan Stratton, who outbrushed pocket-sitting El Rey (Scott Zeron) to win by a neck in 1:51.3. Pacesetter Kopi Luwak (David Miller) was a length back in third, a half-length better than Save America (Gingras).
Stormalong (Stay Hungry - Cut A Deal) posted a 2-0-3 summary from 13 starts in 2022, earning $59,000 and taking a mark of 1:51.2 in his Governor's Cup elimination. Alagna trains for owner Brad Grant, the same connections that campaigned the colt's sire.
Christchurch was a confident winner in his sophomore qualifying debut on April 22, and he offered another solid performance to earn a new lifetime mark in his Friday morning test.
Todd McCarthy guided the son of Always B Miki in the 12th qualifier, putting him on the point and taking no prisoners. After fractions of :28.1, :56.1 and 1:24.3, Christchurch sprinted home in :27 (on a morning where fast final quarters were not in the cards) to trip the timer in 1:51.3 more than six lengths better than his closest rival.
Trained by Nancy Takter, Christchurch (Always B Miki - Darlinonthebeach) is owned by Diamond Creek Racing of Pennsylvania, Farhi Standardbreds Corp. of Ontario and New Zealand's Spreydon Lodge Ltd. The colt sports two wins from seven rookie starts and $20,000 in earnings.
Stormalong and Christchurch are among the colts that remain eligible to the 2023 Pepsi North America Cup.