Trainer Dustin Jones hopes third time’s the charm as he prepares the 2013 Hambletonian Winterbook favorite and the undefeated Wheeling N Dealin for the $1.2 million classic, which is scheduled for Saturday, August 3 at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
There have been three undefeated freshman trotters in the past 11 years with serious Hambletonian aspirations, Broadway Hall, Cantab Hall and Dewycheatumnhowe. Only the latter kept his string alive, while becoming the first undefeated Hambletonian winner in 2008 at 15 in a row. Broadway Hall went nine-for-nine at two and never raced again due to injury. Like “Dewey,” Cantab Hall also went ten-for-ten as a freshman, won his first two starts at three, but had to settle for second in the 2004 Hambletonian. Now, a son of Cantab Hall heads the list on the Road to the Hambletonian Top Ten.
The Ontario-based sensation, driven by Sylvain Filion, capped his unblemished two-year-old campaign winning the $600,000 Breeders Crown at Woodbine in 1:56 after winning his elimination in 1:55.1. The $100,000 yearling, bred in Freehold, New Jersey by William Weaver’s Valley High Stable, also posted major wins in the $475,860 William Wellwood Memorial in 1:55.3 at Mohawk, and the $142,323 Champlain Stakes in a career best of 1:55, also at Mohawk. He bankrolled $696,112 for Ecurie Synergie of Montreal, Quebec.
Wheeling N Dealin has gone through a smooth transition into his sophomore season for Jones. Under meticulous management, the colt is being readied for his comeback sometime this month before he heads for his first race in the US.
“We schooled him yesterday [Wednesday, June 5] after the qualifiers off the starting gate in 1:57.3 at Mohawk,” said Jones, a 51-year-old from Sherbrooke, Quebec, now based in Campbellville, Ontario. “He’s been training back real good. We gave him three months off after the Breeders Crown. We started jogging him again in January just after the Meadowlands Mixed Sale. It takes a little time to get him ready and we certainly haven’t cut any corners.
“He’s going to qualify next Wednesday [June 12] at Mohawk,” Jones continued. “We’re not sure if we’re going to qualify him two or three times. Our plan is to race him in a few overnights at Mohawk, then maybe race him the week before the Hambletonian in a Three-Year-Old Open. He’s eligible to the Stanley Dancer and the Yonkers Trot. We had a meeting the other day, and we decided he’s definitely not going to the Yonkers Trot.
“Yes, it’s all about peaking and timing it just right. If we get him ready too early, how are you going to keep him sharp all season? There’s that big carrot out there, which is the $1 million bonus for winning the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial, the Colonial and Breeders Crown, but that’s awful tough. We’re obviously going to key for the Hambletonian, then the Colonial, the Canadian Trotting Classic, the Kentucky Futurity and the Breeders Crown. Hopefully, we can keep him good for all of those races. That’s tough enough.”
With the return to heat racing for this year’s Hambletonian, Jones is confident he has the type of horse that can handle it.
“He trucks good, so the travel is not a problem, and the heats shouldn’t bother him,” he noted. “He’s a very relaxed horse. Heats wouldn’t have been good for Prestidigitator [Jones’ entrant in 2012] because he’s so hard on himself on the track. On the other hand, Wheeling N Dealin is like two fingers to drive. In the paddock, he doesn’t like to be bothered, and if you leave him alone he’ll fall asleep in the crossties.”
Jones has been to the big dance twice with no luck, yet he’s thankful for the experience and looking forward to his best chance so far.
“I won an elimination in 2000 with Uhadadream [1:53.2, $644,852] and got parked three-wide to the quarter and finished seventh in the final, only beaten four lengths,” Jones recalled. “That horse could leave and I thought we’d be on top before we hit the first turn.
“Last year, with Prestidigitator [1:52.2, $869,608], we got plugged up in the outer flow behind horses that didn’t fire going off Lasix. Again, we were done around the first turn and finished eighth, placed seventh.”
Prestidigitator is also on the comeback trail.
“We gave Prestidigitator three months off over the Winter because he had such a tough year,” said Jones. “He was really beat up after last season. He won the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final in his last start of 2012. He raced 17 times, but none of them were easy starts. He probably won’t race him in a stake race before September.
“With Wheeling N Dealin, we’re just trying to do everything right by the horse, then it’s sort of out of your hands with regards to how the race is going to play out. This is our third go-around, and we know everything has to line up just right that day.”
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