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Muscle Hill Meets Local Speedster In Am Nat

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Published: August 26, 2009 7:08 pm ET

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If speed thrills, fans at Balmoral Park could be delighted by Saturday’s $200,000 American-National Stakes. That is because Hambletonian winner Muscle Hill and Illinois standout Southern Rocketop, two of the three fastest three-year-old trotters in North America this season, will square off for the first time.
Overall, the 10-horse American-National field includes four of the 14 fastest three-year-old male trotters this year.

Muscle Hill is coming off a world record equaling 1:50.1 mile in the $1.5 million Hambletonian on August 8 at the Meadowlands Racetrack. The colt, trained by Greg Peck and driven by Brian Sears, is five-for-five this season and brings a 13-race win streak to Balmoral Park. Muscle Hill’s only setback was a second-place finish in his career debut. He has earned $1.8 million in his career and is the No. 1 ranked harness racing horse in the sport’s latest Top 10 poll.

Southern Rocketop is coming off a 1:54.4 win over a good track at Springfield in the Illinois State Fair Championship. There, the gelding won by 1-1/4 lengths over Dr McDreamy, another American-National contender.

Trained by Robert Taylor and driven by Dave Magee, Southern Rocketop trotted the fastest mile ever by a three-year-old at Balmoral Park when he won in 1:52.2 on July 19. He has won seven of 10 races this year and 16 of 24 in his career, with earnings of $288,911.

Muscle Hill and Southern Rocketop both set world records as two-year-olds.

“It will be exciting, I hope,” Taylor said. “[Southern Rocketop] is coming around real nice. Hopefully, he’ll be on his ‘A’ game for Saturday. A lot of people have been asking me about a showdown, but our main concern is that our horse races good for us. Just to be able to race against a caliber of horse such as Muscle Hill is a thrill.”

Southern Rocketop, who was not eligible to the Hambletonian, will start from post No. 1 in the American-National while Muscle Hill will begin from post 5. Southern Rocketop has made 12 career starts at Balmoral, winning 10 and finishing second once. He has raced outside of Illinois only twice, for the eliminations and final of the Goodtimes at Mohawk Racetrack in Ontario. He finished fourth in the final, but was only three-quarters of a length behind winner Federal Flex.

“Since we do stable here [at Balmoral] maybe it will give him a little advantage,” Taylor said. “I don’t know. I hope so.”

Southern Rocketop, owned by Tennessee’s Claude Powers, was coming off consecutive second-place finishes to Dr McDreamy prior to winning the State Fair Championship.

“We were dealing with a little sickness issue, but he’s been pretty good all year,” Taylor said. “He’s a real nice horse to be around. He’s got a nice personality and takes care of himself real well. He’s all business when he hits the track. Hopefully everything goes for us and the horse stays sound and healthy.”

Muscle Hill tuned up for the American-National with a 1:56.2 mile at Lexington’s Red Mile over a surface labeled “good.” Trainer Greg Peck was in the sulky in place of regular driver Brian Sears.

The American-National stakes record of 1:53 set by Self Possessed in 1999 would seem in jeopardy Saturday. Muscle Hill’s last three wins have been with miles timed in less than 1:53. The all-age track record at Balmoral is 1:51.4 set by Sand Vic in 2006.

“A lot of people have been talking about the possibility Muscle Hill could go under 1:50,” Peck said. “I’ve always said I want to win the race. If that [sub-1:50 mile] happens, it happens and that’s fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. The day of the Hambletonian a lot of people said to me that they wish Brian had tried for sub 1:50. But you know what? Brian always takes care of him and that’s why the horse has come back like he has.”

Following the American-National, Muscle Hill is scheduled to travel to DuQuoin for the World Trotting Derby on September 5.

“The conventional wisdom is that he could have gone in 1:49 and a piece in the Hambletonian,” Peck said. “We won’t be going to DuQuoin with that in mind, but again, that would be up to Brian Sears. It’s still a horse race and he still has to win.”

In addition to the Hambletonian, Muscle Hill’s career ledger includes victories in the Breeders Crown, Peter Haughton Memorial, a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, two New Jersey Sire Stakes championships, and divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion stakes.

Here is a look at the field for the American-National in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers:

1. Southern Rocketop, Dave Magee, Robert Taylor
2. Cruisealong, Peter Wrenn, Ron Gurfein
3. Dashing Earl, Dave Magee, Rich Gillock
4. Dr McDreamy, Homer Hochstetler, Hochstetler
5. Muscle Hill, Brian Sears, Greg Peck
6. The Chancellor, Brandon Simpson, Julie Miller
7. Winning Mister, TBA, Rich Gillock
8. Magic Carpet Ride, Peter Wrenn, Dewayne Minor;
9. Mr Cantab, Marcus Miller, Erv Miller;
10. Southwind Tagar, Dale Hiteman, Homer Hochstetler.

Elegantimage winner Celebrity Deville leads a group of 10 in the American-National Stakes for three-year-old filly trotters on Saturday at Balmoral. Trained by Staffan Lind, Celebrity Deville is coming off a win in a division of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes on August 10 at Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack. She went off stride in her prior two races – an elimination for the Hambletonian Oaks and a division of the Delvin Miller Memorial.

For the year, Celebrity Deville has won three of eight starts and earned $304,543 for owner Celebrity Farms. She will begin the American-National from post No. 10. Stablemate Celebrity Juliet, who earlier this year won a division of the Harry M. Zweig Memorial for fillies, is also entered in the American-National and will start from post 9.

Caviar Forthe Lady, who has won seven of 18 lifetime races and earned $210,369, is in post 8 for driver Charlie Norris and trainer Marty Wollam. Caviar Forthe Lady is coming off a victory in a division of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes and was third in last year’s sire stakes championship. Wollam, 60, recently got win No. 1,000 as a driver. He is approaching 1,500 victories as a trainer.

Trainer Ron Gurfein has two entrants in the American-National, Pleasing Lady and Spiceberry Hanover. Pleasing Lady is a multiple winner on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit and was second to Celebrity Athena in a division of the Zweig. (Celebrity Athena is racing against the boys Saturday night in New York in the Yonkers Trot.) Spiceberry Hanover is coming off a second-place finish to American-National contender Southwind Wasabi in the August 22 Horseman filly trot at the Indiana State Fair.

Here is a look at the field for the American-National filly in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers:

1. Missys Doubt Fire, Jimmy Takter, Takter
2. Spiceberry Hanover, Brian Sears, Ron Gurfein
3. Miss Vickie, Brandon Simpson, Robert Taylor
4. Pleasing Lady, Dave Magee, Ron Gurfein
5. Wedding Dress, Brian Sears, Chuck Sylvester
6. Southwind Wasabi, Peter Wrenn, Chuck Sylvester
7. Graceful Sister, Dave Magee, Rich Gillock
8. Caviar Forthe Lady, Charlie Norris, Marty Wollam
9. Celebrity Juliet, Brian Sears, Staffan Lind
10. Celebrity Deville, Trevor Ritchie, Staffan Lind

(Harness Racing Communications)


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