Worlds Collide In MGM Yonkers International Trot

Etonnant winning the 2022 Elitloppet
Published: September 7, 2023 08:12 pm EDT

The eyes of the Standardbred world will be firmly entranced on Yonkers Raceway Saturday afternoon (Sept. 9) when 10 older trotters from all ends of the globe convene for the $1 million MGM Yonkers International Trot.

The invitation-only event is the featured attraction on an 11-race card offering $3.3 million in purses and also includes the New York Sire Stakes championships for two- and three-year-olds.

When the posts were drawn, French superstar Etonnant landed in the two-hole and was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favourite in the mile-and-a-quarter event. While it is generally a favourable spot at Yonkers, owner/trainer Richard Westerink was somewhat concerned with the early tempo of the race and how it could affect his horse.

“With post two, we must be a little careful,” said Westerink. “[Going into] the first turn, the horse has a lot of energy and that is when he is most likely to make a mistake. After that, I think it will be easier for him.

“On the first turn, he will maybe be in fifth or sixth but after that he can come out and we’ll see. I think he is the toughest horse but maybe not the fastest at the start.”

Westerink reports that Etonnant has lost a little weight due to the heat back in France and here but that the nine-year-old son of Timoko has been training very well. While the 2022 Elitloppet winner has won more than $2.3 million in his career, he is not the richest horse in the field. That honour belongs to the one horse Westerink fears most of the European contingent of five who came to play for the massive trophy.

“Vivid Wise As,” said Westerink quickly on the main competition, “but the only horse I’m really scared of is Etonnant and what he will do. My horse is tougher than the others but this track is 800 meters. When it is 1,600 meters, it is no problem.”

Etonnant raced in the MGM Yonkers International Trot last year and made a break on the fourth turn with regular driver Anthony Barrier, who steers again this year. The goal, of course, in 2023 is for Etonnant to mind his manners and pick up that elusive trophy for Westerink.

“If the horse trots all the way, I think we can win,” surmised Westerink, who added that Etonnant will race with shoes, just as he did in 2022.

Although the United States hasn’t sent out a winner in the MGM Yonkers International Trot since Resolve in 2016, Its Academic (7-2, post three) presents the home nation with a serious opportunity to get back in the win column this year. The Ron Burke trainee has taken his game to a new level in 2023 with seven wins in 11 starts and the six-year-old is a top-three finish away from surpassing $2 million in career earnings.

Most recently, Its Academic set the pace in the Maple Leaf Trot at Woodbine Mohawk Park and was defeated late by the unbeaten-in-the-U.S. Alrajah One in a final time of 1:50.2. The loss broke a five-race winning streak but didn’t dampen driver David Miller’s confidence in his charge.

“Obviously A-One [Alrajah One] was really on his game. My horse fought pretty hard and that horse did just get by us the final 100 yards,” said Miller. “I feel really good about [Saturday]. My horse is in good shape and is sharp.”

As good as the competition is on Saturday, many of the drivers and horses are virtually unknown to U.S. regulars like Miller, but he has an ace in the hole with the extremely easy-to-drive Its Academic.

“I just kind of react to how the situation unfolds,” said Miller about driving against unknown quantities. “My horse is really versatile, he can leave really fast or come off the pace. He’s just an all-around good horse.”

Vivid Wise As, he of the lofty $3,126,865 bankroll and impressive 34 wins in 85 career races, drew the coveted pylon starting spot in the one-hole for trainer Alessandro Gocciadoro and driver Matthieu Abrivard. The nine-year-old son of Yankee Glide has been razor-sharp in Europe while coming off a fast-closing second in Sweden in his last start (July 25) and winning his previous attempt in Italy a month prior.

As accomplished as some of his European brethren are in terms of their careers, Hierro Boko has been able to make some serious noise on the European scene this year, more than doubling his earnings with $295,320 made at the ripe age of nine. Trainer/driver Hannu Korpi understands where his horse fits on the spectrum but feels he has some intangibles in his favour come Saturday.

“Etonnant and Vivid Wise are better than Hierro Boko, but my horse has better circumstances because he can swim and he isn’t stuck in quarantine. He is on the same daily routine as he would be in Finland. He’s taken the trip very well,” said Korpi, who is at Magical Acres while his aforementioned competition remains stabled at Yonkers Raceway.

Hierro Boko (post five) is actually the fastest trotter in Europe this year by way of his 1:50 (mile rate) victory back on July 16 in his homeland of Finland. Times aside, Korpi feels his nine-year-old son of From Above has another distinct advantage in that the smaller track won’t present any problems.

“He’s not a super-fast leaver but he goes very well in the turns,” said Korpi, who will race Hierro Boko barefoot on Saturday. “It is such an honour to be in this race and we are here to win. I’m not afraid to try anything and will do everything I can to make it happen.”

The colourful Korpi even promised a special treat should he wind up in the winner’s circle after the MGM Yonkers International Trot. “I will sing the U.S. National Anthem,” said Korpi with a big smile.

Its Academic isn’t the only U.S. representative as Venerate also carries the Red, White and Blue for Swedish trainer Marcus Melander and Hall of Fame American driver Brian Sears. The five-year-old with French bloodlines (Love You) made a break in the Maple Leaf Trot last time and will also have to navigate post 10 this week.

“Everything seems fine. I don’t know what caused the break,” said Melander, who said he would likely add a head pole on the inside for Saturday’s race.

Carrying the Swedish flag for the U.S.-based Ake Svanstedt stable is Jiggy Jog. The four-year-old is the lone mare in the field and also the youngest combatant. Four-time American driving champion Dexter Dunn will steer the daughter of Walner from post nine.

Other world travellers entered in the race include Get A Wish (Denmark, post six), Aldebaran Zeus (Australia, post seven) and Bengurion Jet (Italy, post eight).

Greg The Leg's 31-1 upset in the final race on Thursday's (Sept. 7) program at MGM Yonkers Raceway caused the $5 minimum "Lucky" Pick 5 wager not to be hit for a second straight night. As a result, Saturday afternoon's MGM Yonkers International Trot card will now include a carryover in excess of $124,000, plus $15,000 worth of seed money from the SOA of New York, for a total starting pot of over $139,000 in the sequence.

There will be a mandatory payout of the Saturday "Lucky" Pick 5 pool, which is guaranteed at $250,000 in conjunction with the USTA's Strategic Wagering program. The wager is a non-Jackpot bet that starts in the fifth race on the program and offers a takeout rate of 20 per cent.

MGM Yonkers Raceway will be dark on Friday (Sept. 8) in preparation for Saturday's blockbuster card. Post time on Saturday is 12:15 p.m. (EDT).

The MGM Yonkers International Trot is race seven with a scheduled post time of 3 p.m. (EDT).

(Yonkers Raceway)

Have something to say about this? Log in or create an account to post a comment.