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Nike Franco Takes A Run At 'The Roses'

Published: June 16, 2017 7:30 pm ET

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She and her husband already have Delaware champion Logans Girl, stand-out Newborn Sassy, the top-class Purrfect Bags, the 2015 North America Cup winner in Wakizashi Hanover and a former New Zealand Horse of the Year in Christen Me, but there is one other horse in the care of Jo Ann Looney-King and Jim King Jr. who is intent on accumulating her own accolades rather than linger in the shadows of her barnmates and that is Nike Franco N.

The New Zealand-bred, who competed in Australia, collected $321,393 from 33 trips to the post, with 18 victories, established several track records and has defeated males on multiple occasions. She has yet, however, to capture her first stakes final on her new continent and will seek to accomplish that task on Saturday (June 17) in the $365,000 Roses Are Red final at Mohawk Racetrack.

“She is just her own woman,” said Looney-King. “That is about the best way to size her up and she knows she is her own woman. She just takes everything as it comes and goes about her business.”

Like Christen Me, Nike Franco is owned by Richard Poillucci and will be steered by her regular reinsman, Tim Tetrick, on Saturday. The duo will leave from post position three in the field of 10. Although the formidable Lady Shadow is the morning line favourite at 6-5, Nike Franco is the second selection at 2-1 off her powerful 1:49.2 performance in her elimination last week.

“We knew she would race well like she always does, but we did not expect that,” said Looney-King. “Just watching her was impressive and Timmy always puts her, like he does with all the horses he drives, in the right spot to win. She certainly was ready last week and we hope to see that again from her, but this is a tough group of mares, especially with Lady Shadow in there, so she will need to be at her best. 'Nike' raced great at Chester against her (second in the Betsy Ross Invitational) but she just could not catch her.”

In fact, one of the reasons Tetrick is so enamored with this mare is directly related to the determination she demonstrated in that event to finish a swiftly-charging second.

“I love Nike Franco,” he said. “I think she’s a great mare. I don’t think people in America have seen what she can do yet. I’m a very firm believer in her and I don’t think anybody knows (how good she can be). All I know is when I ask her to do something, she does it. Even at Chester when I was in a terrible spot she kept digging. She made up five lengths at Chester in a (1):49 mile being three-wide around the last turn. I race there all the time and horses do not do that.”

Since her intercontinental transition, Nike Franco has compiled a record of 10-7-2-0 and earned $131,625. The only time she has failed to hit the board was a seventh-place finish in the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway on March 17, but she certainly had an excuse.

“We were really looking forward to racing her in that series, but she ended up being pretty sick and we just weren’t going to push her,” Looney-King said. “It’s a long season and that’s what we try to do is keep the horses happy and healthy as they go through it.”

Nike Franco also has regal blood flowing through her veins as the daughter of McArdle’s dam, Nearea Franco, was a New Zealand champion and her granddam No Paba, is a half-sibling to 1990 Horse of the Year Beach Towel.

King claims the seven-year-old mare even has her own fan club.

“She attracts attention wherever she goes,” Looney-King said. “In fact, there are still people in Australia that are watching her over here and the girl who used to take care of her, Amanda Grieve, makes sure she is plugged in to her every move. She’s just a bay mare with her own way about her. Jim and I are just very lucky to have horses like her and all our horses this year. We remind ourselves every day how fortunate we are with them and for our family.”

As her fans prepare to witness Nike Franco's second performance North of the Border, her driver is counting on her to illustrate just why those that come in contact with her become so attached.

“Last week she won in (1):49 just as easy as you would want a horse to win,” Tetrick said. “It’s a very tough group. Lady Shadow is the horse to beat, but in my heart, if I can keep close to her, I think mine (this mare) can out-kick her; if I can just stay close to her.”

Two-time defending champion Lady Shadow heads to this year’s Roses Are Red Stakes final off a 1:50.2 victory in her elimination last week, pushing her win streak to six races dating back to last year.

She has won 14 of her last 16 races, a stretch that began with her triumph in her Roses Are Red elim last June. She won last year’s final in 1:48.1, just one-fifth of a second off Anndrovette’s stakes, track and Canadian record.

With a victory Saturday, Lady Shadow would join Anndrovette as the only three-time winners of the Roses Are Red. Anndrovette accomplished the feat from 2012-14.

“She’s vicious,” said Lady Shadow’s driver Yannick Gingras. “I think she’s the one to beat. I’m very confident in her. She’s got big lungs. She can go those :27 quarters all day long. She’s got six of them in her. She never gets tired.”

Lady Shadow was fifth at the opening quarter of her elimination before embarking on a first-over march to victory.

“Sometimes you over-think stuff,” Gingras said. “I was trying to race her easy and get her a covered-up trip and it kind of worked against me. She had to work harder coming first-up than if I’d just put her on the front. She was really good.”

Lady Shadow, a six-year-old daughter of Shadow Play-Lady Camella, has won 31 of 58 career races and earned $1.92 million. She is owned by David Kryway, Carl Atley, Ed Gold, and BFJ Stable, and trained by Ron Adams.

“Let’s face it, Lady Shadow has been tremendous,” said Tom Fanning, who trains Frost Damage Blues, the winner of the first of last week’s three eliminations. “Nike Franco is really good. I think there are a couple other ones, us included, that if things work right can be very competitive in there. It’s a competitive bunch this year.”

Frost Damage Blues, owned by blueberry magnate Bill Augustine, won her elimination in 1:50.1 with a rally from mid-pack at the race’s midpoint. James MacDonald handled the driving and will be back in the sulky for the final.

“She got a great trip,” Fanning said. “She likes those trips; she’ll fire off of that for sure.”

A five-year-old daughter of Western Ideal-Art Matters, Frost Damage Blues has won 14 of 28 career races and earned $191,862. She finished third in last year’s Breeders Crown Mare Pace.

“She’s been good,” Fanning said. “She’s filled out. I’m happy with how she is. The best thing about her is she just tries hard. Most of them don’t try as hard as they can. She is one of the few that does.”

Following is the field for the Roses Are Red.

PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line
1-Bernadette-David Miller-Ron Adams-20/1
2-Frost Damage Blues-James MacDonald-Tom Fanning-6/1
3-Nike Franco N-Tim Tetrick- Jo Ann Looney King-2/1
4-Lady Shadow-Yannick Gingras-Ron Adams-6/5
5-Wrangler Magic-Louis-Philippe Roy-Rene Allard-8/1
6-Call Me Queen Be-Scott Zeron-Tony O'Sullivan-10/1
7-Witch Dali-Doug McNair-Richard Moreau-20/1
8-Penpal-Patrick Lachance-Patrick Lachance-15/1
9-Pure Country-Brett Miller-Jimmy Takter-8/1
10-Prairie Sweetheart-Matt Kakaley-Tony O'Sullivan-20/1

(With files from USTA & HRC)


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