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Havefaithinme Seeks Stateside Success

Published: November 30, 2019 11:24 am ET

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Havefaithinme’s start in the Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway Saturday night (Nov. 30) will likely be his final race of the year and the gelding will try to add a victory in the Hilltop’s $42,000 feature to an impressive seasonal resume.

Havefaithinme has earned 10 victories and nine placings from 29 starts this year, good for $188,755 in earnings for owners Blindswitch Racing Stable, Gary Axelrod, Good Friends Racing Stable, and Santo Farina. Although Havefaithinme’s record isn’t out of place for a champion imported pacer, the eight-year-old New Zealand-bred’s road to success in America was anything but ordinary.

Campaigned in New Zealand and Australia by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen from July 2014 to January 2018, Havefaithinme established himself as one of the best pacers in the Southern Hemisphere. The Bettors Delight son earned four Group 1 victories at three, including the Northern Derby and New Zealand Derby. At four, Havefaithinme added another Group 1 from a standing start in the Auckland Cup over 3,200 meters on New Year’s Eve in 2015.

Havefaithinme continued his four-year-old campaign in Australia, rattling off four straight wins at Menangle, culminating in two Group 1 wins in the Chariots of Fire on Feb. 13, 2016 and the Miracle Mile 15 days later. Havefaithinme’s 1:47.5 clocking in the Miracle Mile established a new standard for pacers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although the Miracle Mile was Havefaithinme’s final Group 1 victory, the pacer remained competitive at the top level until Blindswitch Racing’s David Litvinsky received a call from an agent in late 2017. Havefaithinme had just finished second to Lazarus in a heat of the Inter Dominion Pacing Series Gloucester Park on Dec. 1 and the pacer was for sale.

“There was an agent I was dealing with, I had gotten a bunch of horses from him in the past, and he said there was an opportunity to buy one of the top horses in Australia at the time,” Litvinsky recalled. “The owner would sell the horse, but he wanted to race the horse in three more races over there.

“When he contacted me, he just came in second, first-over, three-wide. It was really amazing. He was outside the entire race and just flying home, he lost to Lazarus,” Litvinsky continued. “I was like, ‘this is something special.’ I got a group together and we told the agent we would buy the horse and we were OK with him racing three more times for the old owner and we would get the horse afterwards.”

Havefaithinme finished last in his next three starts in the Group 1 Inter Dominion Grand Final on Dec. 8, the Group 2 Village Kid Pace on Dec. 29, and the Group 1 Western Australia Pacing Cup on Jan. 19, 2018 before shipping to Blindswitch’s stable in Montgomery, N.Y. However, Litvinsky and trainer Jose Godinez soon discovered something was amiss.

“I think he shipped within a week or two after the races. We brought him in, gave him a week off, and let him recoup himself after the travel,” Litvinsky said. “We took him for a jog, and he was dead lame, dead lame. We brought him back in and in the next day or two, we X-rayed his back leg and he had a pretty bad fracture in a hind leg.”

Although the exact cause and timing of the injury remains a mystery, the fracture wasn’t fresh.

“I sent the X-rays to our vet as well as Dr. Nutt and both of them basically said it was an old fracture, that it was already calcifying,” Litvinsky said. “If it was something that happened within the flight, it would have been fresh. It might have happened during his last three races in Australia.”

Dr. Nutt repaired Havefaithinme’s leg with three screws. Although the injury wasn’t life-threatening, the surgeon gave the horse a 60 to 70 percent chance of returning to the races. Although Litvinsky praises Dr. Nutt for his work and friendship throughout the process, the ordeal soured what should have been an exciting venture with an imported champion.

“It was frustrating when you find out it happened prior to him shipping. Was it just an honest mistake? We tried to get the money back, but basically, buyer beware,” Litvinsky said. “We didn’t vet the horse after his last few races. The vet report was before those races, so we really should have vetted him out again, but that’s hindsight. Luckily, he’s just an amazing horse and he was able to rebound from an injury like that.”

After four months off, Havefaithinme began training back. He qualified twice at Pocono Downs in Sept. 2018, finishing second and first clocked in 1:56 and 1:53.2, respectively with final quarters of :27.1 in both trials.

“It was scary. You don’t want to see him break down or hurt himself. Watching his qualifier, just hoping that he comes out OK and doesn’t fall down during the race,” Litvinsky said. “Usually, you aren’t that nervous during a qualifier, but for him, it was almost like a race. He was super, he brushed and came home in :27.1. Just incredible, he’s an amazing horse.”

Havefaithinme went 1-for-9 last year, his lone win coming in a $23,000 overnight at Yonkers on Oct. 30. After a brief freshening over the holidays into January, Havefaithinme found his best form this year.

Havefaithinme returned with a victory in a $29,000 overnight at Yonkers on Feb. 9 and posted a win in Saratoga’s pacing feature on Feb. 18. After hitting the board in three straight starts, Havefaithinme posted three consecutive wins in April before taking on top competition in the Great Northeast Open Series at Pocono Downs May 18. Although he finished sixth in his first attempt in the series, Havefaithinme finished second to None Bettor in 1:49.2 after a pocket trip June 22.

“He chased None Bettor when None Bettor was super sharp, just missing by a neck at Pocono in one of the Great Northeast Open Series legs. He’s just that type of horse. He gives it all, doesn’t matter who he’s racing against,” Litvinsky said.

Havefaithinme’s remarkable comeback continued throughout the summer as he earned three more victories in overnights at Yonkers and Pocono. He’s raced at Yonkers exclusively in his last eight starts, finishing second in the Open Handicap twice and posting victories in the $35,000 Preferred in two of his last three starts.

“He’s just one of those horses that likes to win. Whenever you pull him up and a horse comes up next to him that looks like he’s going to pass him outside, he just won’t let anybody pass. He just goes into another gear when he sees another horse come up to him,” Litvinsky said. “He knows. He won’t give up that lead. In Australia, he didn’t race on the front a lot, but over here on the front end he’s a monster. If he’s 100 percent, no one’s passing him, I don’t care who it is.

“He’s also the sweetest horse. He’s like a dog,” Litvinsky continued. “My son goes up and pets him and kisses him and gives him love. It’s an extra bonus of having a super horse on the track and also in the barn. He just does everything right.”

Havefaithinme will start from post five in Saturday’s pacing feature. Jason Bartlett drove in Havefaithinme’s two Preferred wins and takes the call again. The pair are 7-2 on the morning line.

New Zealand-bred Bettors Fire returns to the Hilltop after two front-stepping wins in the Plainridge Park feature on November 7 and 14. Ron Cushing drives the 11-year-old gelding for Heidi Gibbs. The third New Zealand import in the field, Saying Grace, won three straight in the Open ranks at Hoosier Park before shipping in to finish second to Jacks Legend here on Nov. 16. The Jeff Cullipher trainee was also on the lead in his prior two races.

Ron Burke will send out Windsong Leo, who has led at every call in each of his last three starts at the Meadows and Dover, but drew post eight in his first local start since the Levy Series.

Fine Diamond, Macs Jackpot, The Real One, and The Wall complete the lineup.

“There’s good horses and it’s probably his last race before getting turned out. He’s going to go to Chris Coyle’s (Olive Branch Farm) in North Carolina, probably after this race. He’s probably getting a little tired,” Litvinsky said.

“It’s the Open, anything can happen. It’s wide open, I just trust Bartlett will do the right thing and hopefully Havefaithinme has another one in him and hope for the best. Honestly, whatever happens, I’m grateful for an amazing season from him.”

(SOA of NY)


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