He had the outside again, but it didn't matter to the oldest horse in the race as the ten year-old Alpine Hawk repeated.
Claiming handicap trotters, racing for a purse of $3,400, were featured at Cal Expo on Friday night (January 7), on which Alpine Hawk won for the 33rd time in his career.
Starting from the seven-hole in the field of the same number, the gelding was four and three wide for the first eighth of a mile before clearing to the front after 3-16ths of a mile. Did driver Rich Wojcio use his horse into a :29.4 first-quarter?
"I had to use him a little bit and it concerned me a little bit because it took a little bit of the starch out of him," said Wojcio.
With Wojcio grabbing a hold of leather once on the lead and slowing up the tempo, this prompted a three-eighths move from Jess Or No (Luke Plano) that saw Alpine Hawk yield the lead past the 7-16ths mile marker into a 1:00 first-half. Was Wojcio happy with the two-hole?
"It was good to get the pocket because it's always good to follow Jess Or No."
Racing two-lengths off the lead to the 9-16ths mile pole, it appeared Jess Or No was being gassed to get away from Alpine Hawk whose best work is done in the stretch versus the turn.
"I knew Jess Or No was going quick and I wasn't sure what Luke was thinking - - so all I was trying to do was keep my horse within distance. When I popped the earplugs past the five-eighths he didn't really respond, but it didn't concern me because I know he always keeps coming on in the stretch and always tries hard in the stretch as well."
Narrowing the gap to the three-quarter mile station and now minus two-lengths off the lead at that marker, timed in 1:29, Wojcio still wasn't counting his chickens.
"I wasn't sure if I could catch Jess Or No, but I thought it would be between me and him."
Tipping out at the head of the lane at the same time Jess Or No drew clear, Alpine Hawk soon made up ground with a rush with an eighth of a mile to go.
"Once I got head to head with Jess Or No - - I thought I was okay. From that point he was good right through to the wire."
Surging to the lead to mid-stretch with the whip of Wojcio now over his shoulder, Alpine Hawk would score under a grip by an easy 2-1/4-lengths in 1:58.2, at a generous $8.60 win mutuel. Foxy Lady De Vie (Steve Wiseman) came on to be second, and Jess Or No finished just a neck farther back, in third. Heavily favored (3-5) Cherry Tree Nicole (Tim Maier), who was stepping up in class off seven-straight wins, finished a non-factoring fifth.
"It was a very good effort and he continues to race very well. I want to thank owner Jim Winske for sending him out here. I want to thank trainer Gordie Graham for his fine, fine patience. Most of all, I want to thank my girlfriend Meredith Higgins. If it wasn't for her unwavering dedication to this horse - - I don't think he'd even be racing," concluded Wojcio.(Cal Expo)