He may not be a household name outside of Ohio, but Spaaaanzano will seek to remedy that situation when he makes his first foray outside of his home state and his first Grand Circuit appearance on Friday, Sept. 15 in the $420,000 Peter Haughton Memorial at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
Contested for the first time in Indiana, the event for two-year-old male trotters drew a strong field of 10, including Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and William Wellwood Memorial victor T C I (David Miller, 6-5) and the talented Mars Hill (Todd McCarthy, 9-2).
Spaaaanzano will commence trotting from post position 10 and retains the services of driver Aaron Merriman. The son of Coraggioso-Grace N Charlie is conditioned by Chris Beaver, who co-owns with Spaaaartners and Ontario owners Bill Manes and Leo Fleming. The gelding was bred by Timothy Stutzman and is 15-1 on the morning line despite a record of 6-5-1-0 with his only loss being a second-place finish as the even-money favourite in the $300,000 Ohio Sire Stakes Scarlet Championship for his age, gait and gender at Eldorado Scioto Downs last time out on Sept. 9 behind Tennessee Tom.
“I might not have had him tight enough for the sire stakes final since he got sick before the last leg and I had to scratch him,” said Beaver. “And I don’t think he saw the other horse [Tennessee Tom] come to him [in the sire stakes final]. I think he is ready this week and I’ll put blinkers on him where he can see other horses. Now seems like the time to take a shot with him and see what we have.”
Spaaaanzano is the third foal out of a dam that earned $225,830 on the racetrack and he is a full brother to Ohio Sire Stakes winner Panzano ($195,062). The gelding’s sire captured the 2012 New York Sire Stakes final and amassed $677,398 in purse money.
Beaver did not train Coraggioso, but did train Panzano. One of the members of the Spaaaartners partnership is Tom Durkin, who bred and owned Coraggioso with Joseph Spadaro.
Durkin is well-known as the voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup in Thoroughbred racing but has been involved in harness racing for decades. This includes calling races at The Meadowlands from 1982-1990 including the dead heat in the 1989 Hambletonian between Park Avenue Joe and Probe.
Durkin retired in 2014 from the New York Racing Association, but returned to the mic for this year’s edition of the Belmont Stakes and also called a race at Pinehurst in North Carolina, where he resides during the winter months, last spring. The event was sponsored by Coraggioso.
“We don’t know exactly what we have in Spaaaanzano,” Durkin said prior to the sire stakes final. “But his full brother was a good horse and he has done nothing wrong in his career. We are not sure if he is up to Grand Circuit company, but you don’t know until you race them and he deserves the opportunity. So, we’ll see how he stacks up against the competition.”
The gelding certainly belongs in this “Win and You’re In” event for the 2023 Breeders Crown.
Spaaaanzano demonstrated his ability in his debut with a stakes record triumph in 1:56.2 in the $150,000 Next Generation at Scioto Downs on July 1.
Spaaaanzano and his driver, who just became the fourth driver in history to reach 15,000 wins on Sept. 2, performed in their next engagement at MGM Northfield Park on July 9. The result was another facile score in a $40,000 Ohio Sire Stakes leg. The duo continued through sire stakes events in the Buckeye State with three more triumphs, primarily on the front end.
Spaaaanzano established his lifetime mark of 1:55.4 on Aug. 4 at Scioto Downs and has earned $253,350 in his young career. His loss in the sire stakes final was the only occasion he was not on the lead at the first quarter-mile marker. He assumed command at the half-mile pole on Sept. 9, but Tennessee Tom swept by him after three-quarters in 1:26.1 and the gelding could not catch his rival down the lane in the 1:55.1 mile.
The gelding’s best asset may not be how well-gaited he is but his demeanor.
“His driver said the horse is so relaxed he can leave with a :28 quarter and then you can drop the lines because he will do whatever you ask,” said Beaver. “But with him having that kind of personality he can also be a little difficult to train because he’s just so mellow, you don’t know sometimes where he really is at.”
The Haughton is the 12th race on a stellar 14-race card that also features the $400,000 James Doherty Memorial for two-year-old filly trotters and the $80,000 Hoosier Cup. Like last year, the Doherty and Haughton will provide “Win and You’re In” status for this year’s Breeders Crown, which will be contested at Hoosier Park next month. The winners of each race will not compete in eliminations and will advance directly to their respective final, with no starting fee and the opportunity to draw for post positions one through five.
“Spaaaanzano is not eligible for the Breeders Crown, but he is for next year’s Hambletonian,” said Beaver. “The Hambletonian is always what you think about when you have a trotter, so this is a step in seeing where he fits in.”
Racing begins at Hoosier Park at 6:15 p.m. (EDT). For free program pages for Friday's card, click here.