Take Two For Etonnant In The Yonkers International Trot

Vivid Wise As racing to the outside of Etonnant
Published: July 26, 2023 01:35 pm EDT

While it is unclear if Richard Westerink is familiar with the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again,” he clearly lives by it. The owner/trainer will once again cross the Atlantic Ocean with €2.5 million winner Etonnant, perhaps the top horse in Europe right now, in hopes of winning the $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot.

“I’ve never won a race in the U.S. and it is a dream for me,” said Westerink. “My horse is in very good shape. We were preparing for the Prix d’Amerique, but I said last year we were preparing for it also and my horse got sick and didn’t race. Since the horse is fine now, it makes sense to race at Yonkers and think about the Prix d’Amerique later.”

For the record, Westerink will be making his fourth trip to MGM Yonkers Raceway in search of the elusive International Trot trophy. His best finish was in 2015 when he finished second with Timoko, sire of Etonnant. Last year, Etonnant was sent off as the 8-5 favourite in the MGM Yonkers International Trot won by Cokstile and was charted with a break on the fourth turn just after the three-quarter call and finished eighth. 

Whether or not the break in stride by Etonnant was caused by the track configuration or some confusion between horses can be debated, but Westerink seems certain of his horse’s ability to handle the tight turns of the Yonkers half-mile oval.

“Maybe [the tight turns] are not his thing, but last year the race went badly for me when Back Of The Neck came out in front of him. If not for that, I think we would’ve been second or third by the final turn and it is a different race. Maybe he would’ve won the race,” said Westerink. “I think he can handle the turns and it is not a problem. We won at Kouvola in Finland [on June 17, 2023] and the turns there are flat and very tight. He won there in a new track record time. It seems he handles the turns easier now.” 

Since missing the Prix d’Amerique in January due to sickness, Etonnant has gone on a roll, winning six of eight starts at distances from one to 1.67 miles. His most recent triumph was on July 15 in the €120,000 Prix de Washington at Enghien-Soisy Racecourse in upper Normandy and Etonnant is expected to start there again this Saturday, July 29 in the €150,000 Jean-Luc Lagardere.

Westerink was hoping to arrive in the U.S. in August to compete in the John Cashman Memorial at The Meadowlands but said the cost of travel, vet and insurance – €80,000 – was simply too high. With Yonkers providing guaranteed money to International shippers and with the large number of horses coming from Europe decreasing vet bills, the cost of a U.S. trip for the Yonkers International was more attractive. 

The star-studded field for the 1-1/4-mile race is certainly living up to its name with an international flare. Etonnant (France) joins Vivid Wise As (Italy), Get A Wish (Denmark), Aldebaran Zeus (Australia) and Jiggy Jog S (Sweden) at the halfway mark of attendance for the expected 10-horse Yonkers International Trot field.

“I know the Australian horse and, of course, Vivid Wise As. We beat [Vivid Wise As] on the outside a couple of times and right now I think we can handle him,” said Westerink.

The $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot will be the marquee event on a blockbuster program that includes a pair of six-figure Invitationals and the $1.8 million New York Sire Stakes Day of Champions to honour the best two and thre-year-olds in the state. Post time for the special card is noon.

(Yonkers Raceway: Photo of Etonnant and Vivid Wise As)

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