Based on his progression in terms of finishes, French Wine looks to be maturing nicely this summer. The three-year-old male trotter won his most recent outing, a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes this past Sunday at Harrah’s Philadelphia, after being third to start his campaign in late May and then second in his only race in June.
On Saturday, the Hambletonian-eligible colt will make his fourth start of the season when he meets eight rivals in the $350,000 Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial for three-year-old trotters at Vernon Downs. He will start from post four with Andy Miller in the sulky for trainer Julie Miller and is 9-2 on the morning line, third choice behind Ari Ferrari J at 3-1 and Kilmister at 4-1.
French Wine and Kilmister are among four Hambletonian hopefuls in the field, along with Country Dagger and The Gruffalo. The $1 million Hambletonian, the sport’s premier event for three-year-old trotters, is Aug. 5 at The Meadowlands.
In his career, French Wine has hit the board in 11 of 13 races, winning five and earning $443,824 for owners Andy Miller Stable, Daniel Plouffe, Jean Christophe Plouffe and One Legend Stable. His victories last year included the Kentucky Championship Series final at The Red Mile, where he defeated Ari Ferrari J and Kilmister. His winning time of 1:53 tied for the season’s third-fastest mile among two-year-old male trotters in North America.
Team Miller could have sent French Wine to Kentucky for early sire stakes action at Oak Grove to begin this year but opted to remain close to their base in New Jersey and compete on the Pennsylvania stakes circuit at Pocono and Philly.
“Andy and I have tried to find good spots for him to keep his confidence up, to race well and to race on the end of it,” said Julie Miller. “It’s the same as everyone else, you’re trying to manage your horse the best you can and make it to that first Saturday in August. It’s a marathon season. We’re just trying to keep him the best we can.”
French Wine’s win on Sunday came over a track labe;led sloppy in 1:53.3. French Wine and Andy Miller got the lead just past the opening quarter, which was reached in :27.1, and controlled the race from there.
“Andy said it was the best he’s been this year,” said Julie Miller. “He was comfortable and relaxed. Andy was really happy with that effort.”
French Wine is a son of Bar Hopping-Creamy Mimi. Andy Miller won the 2008 Hambletonian Oaks with Creamy Mimi, driving the filly for trainer Trond Smedshammer. French Wine was purchased for $120,000 at the 2021 Lexington Selected Sale and is a half-brother to Grand Circuit winner French Laundry. His family also includes Dan Patch Award winner Pizza Dolce, the grandam of 2022 U.S. Trotter of the Year Bella Bellini.
“He’s always had a good attitude and personality,” Julie Miller said about French Wine. “He’s a sharp-looking horse when you see him. He’s definitely eye-catching.
“The best thing about him is he’s honest. He enjoys his work, he likes to race. When I put him on the track, I know he’s going to give Andy a hundred percent. He tries and that means a lot.”
As for French Wine’s trail to the Hambletonian, Julie Miller is focused only on the Zweig.
“We take it step by step,” she said. “He got a good draw [on Saturday] and I’ve got a good driver, so we’ll hope for the best.”
On Saturday, Vernon Downs will also host the $142,000 Zweig Memorial for three-year-old female trotters. The nine-horse field features eight that are eligible to the Hambletonian’s filly companion race, the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, including 2-1 morning-line favourite Sadie Hanover and 5-2 second choice Walner Payton.
Walner Payton, trained by Chris Ryder, finished second in last week’s New York New York Mile at Yonkers Raceway, where Sadie Hanover was third. It was Sadie Hanover’s first loss in six races this season. Scott Zeron will drive Sadie Hanover for trainer Linda Toscano, leaving from post five Saturday. Walner Payton and driver Dexter Dunn start from post seven.
Racing begins at 12:15 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at Vernon Downs.
For the day’s complete entries, click here.