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Head-Scratcher Now Haughton Hopeful

Published: July 25, 2019 2:57 pm ET

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After talking up two-year-old male trotter Stay Close during the spring, trainer Joe Holloway had to endure some questioning from owners Ted Gewertz and Marty Granoff when the colt qualified in 2:03.3 and 2:02 in June at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

“They both were, this is one you like?” Holloway said. “They were right. I watched him and he wasn’t close to what I thought he should be. He was horrific, not even the same horse I had talked about. He was an embarrassment. You just scratch your head.”

Holloway gave the colt two weeks off, did some work, and returned for a third qualifier on July 13 at the Meadowlands. This time, Stay Close was close to what Holloway hoped, as he finished second in 1:57.2. Six days later, in his career debut in a division of the Kindergarten Classic Series at the ‘Big M,’ Stay Close romped to a 1:54.3 triumph, besting the field by ten and a quarter lengths, to bring a smile to Holloway’s face.

The winning time equalled the fourth-best mark of the young season for a two-year-old trotter.

On Friday, Stay Close will compete in the first of two eliminations of the Peter Haughton Memorial for two-year-old male trotters at the Meadowlands. Stay Close, who has retained the services of driver David Miller, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line in the eight-horse field. Synergy, a $275,000 yearling purchase who won his debut by four lengths in 1:56 on July 12, is the 5-2 early favourite. Synergy is trained by Per Engblom and will have Yannick Gingras in the sulky.

Real Cool Sam, who is three-for-three for trainer Jim Campbell and driver Miller, is the 2-1 early favourite in the second elimination.

The top-five finishers from each elimination will advance to the final, which will be contested on August 3 at the Meadowlands. Elimination winners will draw for posts one through six.

Stay Close, pictured victorious in the Kindergarten Classic Series at the Meadowlands Racetrack (Lisa Photo).

Stay Close, by Father Patrick out of Tori Ann, was purchased under the name My Brother Jack for $100,000 at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale and is owned by Granoff’s Val D’Or Farms, Gewertz and Steve Arnold. He is a half-brother to Milligans School, who was a stakes winner and earner of $539,726 in North America before going on to success in Europe.

“He’s come a long way in the last couple weeks,” Holloway said. “That race (in the Kindergarten) was more what I thought of him. He was one I was high on, and I told people. He was good gaited, always going good. Hopefully he keeps going the right way now.”

Holloway, who was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame on July 7, will have another stakes contender in action Saturday at the Meadowlands. Starita is 6-1 on the morning line in the first of two eliminations of the Hambletonian Oaks, which is the sport’s premier event for three-year-old female trotters.

Starita has won three of seven races this year, including a division of the Reynolds Memorial on July 6 at the Meadowlands, and has hit the board a total of six times. She heads to her Oaks elimination off a fourth-place finish in a division of the Delvin Miller Memorial on July 13.

“Two starts back she raced great, was as good as anybody,” said Holloway, who won the 2010 Hambletonian Oaks with Bar Slide. “She raced horrible her last start. She threw in a bad race. But it’s very few and far between that she throws in a bad race. Hopefully we have that issue resolved and we’ll go from there.

“So far I’ve been real happy. She’s got gate speed, she can race any which way, she’s versatile; I like her chances. I think she can be a contender.”

Friday’s card at the Meadowlands will also include three eliminations of the James Doherty Memorial for two-year-old female trotters. The top-three finishes from each division plus a fourth-place finisher drawn by lot will advance to the final.


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