Since Trotting Grace arrived on the east coast this spring, she’s quickly made a name for herself racing in the top conditions at Yonkers Raceway. The four-year-old is 2-for-5 at the Hilltop and has a pair of runner-up finishes. Her last outing resulted in a victory in her Open Handicap debut, but trainer Travis Alexander thinks the mare is still improving.
“I think her best races are yet to come,” the trainer said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom yet.”
Trotting Grace spent the first two years of her career racing in the barn of Steven Searle in Illinois and Indiana. She won five races and finished second in the $135,000 Fox Valley Flan Series Final at two. At three, Trotting Grace earned another seven victories, including five straight in stakes company.
Trotting Grace moved to the barn of Walter Haynes early in 2019 before shipping east for her first start with Alexander on May 3. The Cassis daughter’s ownership group, comprised of Brian Carsey, John McGill, and Adam Friedland, sent the mare to Alexander with their eyes on the lucrative purses at Yonkers.
“She was a very good-looking mare and she was clean-gaited,” Alexander recalled of Trotting Grace’s arrival in the barn. “That’s the first thing I noticed; she’s very good-gaited. She can get around the turns so well. That’s what helps her so much, she handles those turns beautifully. That just goes along with her good gait.”
Although Trotting Grace finished sixth in her Yonkers debut in a $23,000 overnight, Alexander was encouraged. The start proved to be a learning experience for both the mare and her new trainer.
“I was very happy to have a chance to see what she could do. As soon as they sent her out, we actually put her in the box before she arrived in the barn. She raced OK, she came first-over, needed a headpole, little things. We got to know her a little better,” Alexander said.
Trotting Grace finished second in the same class the following week after riding the pocket. She was the runner up again on May 24 after pouncing on longshot leader Warrawee Shipshape on the third turn and getting caught late by 1-2 favourite Winning Shadow in the stretch of the 1-1/16-mile race.
Trotting Grace broke through in her next start with Brent Holland in the bike, scoring a dominating four-length victory on the front end at the $29,000 level on June 8. She took advantage of an inside draw last week (June 15) to post a front-stepping win in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot over Smalltownthrowdown in a lifetime mark of 1:54.1. The victories improved Trotting Grace’s record to 15-for-43 with $249,591 earned.
“I think that first start, she had to figure out the half and from there, she got it down,” Alexander said. “After that, she really started to click in our program. Getting better, and better, and better. Her last two starts, she was good. I feel that she’s improving.
“With the rail last week, I knew we’d be up close. I didn’t know we’d be on the front, but it just worked out,” he continued. “Brent did a great job rating a nice mile and it couldn’t have worked out any better. She responded and that’s what good horses do, they respond when you give them the trip.”
Trotting Grace will start from post five in the $44,000 Open Handicap Trot Saturday night (June 22). Brent Holland will be back in the bike and the pair are 9-2 on the morning line. Alexander feels Trotting Grace is continuing to improve and thinks Holland has played a key role in managing her energy on the track.
“She trained very well (Wednesday). So, we’re taking it a race at a time,” he said. “She jogs and we train her a mile-and-a-half Wednesday for Saturday. She’s actually pretty calm and relaxed at the farm, not overly aggressive. At Yonkers, she gets pretty keyed-up. In the post parade, she can get pretty warm. Brent has done a great job getting her to relax in the race and it’s worked out pretty well.”
The field for this week’s trotting feature also includes In Secret, who returns to the Open after a runner-up finish in the Preferred trot last out June 15 and is the 5-2 morning line favourite from an assigned post one. Smalltownthrowdown drew post four for Jim Marohn, Jr. and Rene Allard while Will Take Charge, the Open victor two weeks ago who was handicapped by post seven last week, moves inside to post three; the pair are each 3-1 on the morning line.
Ten-year-old Meladys Monet returns off about a month’s freshening and will start from post two. Chasin Dreams, third in last week’s feature, completes the field from post six.
“It’s post five in a six-horse field, so it’s not as bad. It’s going to be very interesting to see because I don’t know how Brent is going to approach it,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot of speed on the inside of her, but she can race off the pace, she can race off a helmet. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried that this week.
“I’m not going to tell him what to do,” Alexander continued. “The owners, they like to go forward, they like to race and be aggressive. Sometimes you think everybody’s leaving and nobody leaves. It’s so hard to know how it’s all going to play out.”
Saturday night’s card also features the weekly $44,000 Open Handicap Pace.
First post time is 6:50 p.m.
(SOA of NY)