Trainer Nifty Norman might not be expecting his star mare Bee A Magician to beat the sport's top male trotters in Friday's $236,000 Crawford Farms Open at Vernon Downs, but he's not shying from the challenge, either.
Bee A Magician, the 2013 Horse of the Year in both the U.S. and Canada, will face nine male rivals in the Crawford. The field includes world champion Sebastian K, who was Sweden's Horse of the Year in 2012 and is harness racing's No. 1-ranked horse this season, plus major stakes-winners Archangel, Intimidate, Market Share, Mister Herbie, and Spider Blue Chip.
"I'm not intimidated,” Norman said. "We've got to do it at some point, anyway, and I think she seems really good right now. I don't expect to win, but I expect her to be good. She looks fantastic, nice and sound.”
Bee A Magician, a 4-year-old mare who was undefeated in 17 races last season, has won two of eight starts this year and finished second on five occasions. She enters the Crawford off a track-record 1:55 victory over the boys in the open on Aug. 22 at Yonkers Raceway.
"That had some bearing on our decision, although that was not the same quality field,” Norman said. "But I liked the way she raced there.
"Basically, we've got to race and it was either against the mares for $40,000 (in Monday's Miss Versatility Series leg at Tioga Downs) or the boys for $240,000. Getting a piece of $240,000 is better than winning for $40,000. We figured we'd give it a shot.
"Plus Classic Martine is racing as good as anybody right now. It's not like facing the mares was going to be easy.”
Prior to the win in the Yonkers open, Bee A Magician finished second twice to Classic Martine in the Ima Lula Series at the Meadowlands. Classic Martine captured the final by a neck in 1:51.1, equaling Bee A Magician's world-record time for a 4-year-old female trotter.
Three of Bee A Magician's second-place finishes this year came in miles of 1:51.2 or faster. Another came in the Hambletonian Maturity, contested at 1 1/8 mile, against 4-year-old male rivals.
"I haven't been disappointed with her at all this year,” said Norman, who trains Bee A Magician for owners Mel Hartman, Herb Liverman, and David McDuffee. "I've thought she's gone some great trips.
"People keep asking what's wrong with her because she's not winning every race. I didn't expect her to. It's tough at this age (4). This year is really a learning curve to see how she handles the step up. It's more to help plan for next year.”
Bee A Magician, who has won 29 of 38 races and $2.49 million, will start the Crawford from post three with regular driver Brian Sears.
Sebastian K, who has won seven of eight races this year, his first season in North America, starts from post five for trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt. He is the fastest trotter in history thanks to his 1:49 win in the Sun Invitational at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on June 28.
Intimidate is the only horse to defeat Sebastian K this year, winning the Maple Leaf Trot by a nose. Intimidate, who starts from post eight, won last year's edition of the Crawford, then called the Credit Winner.
Market Share, who has won 24 of 49 races and $3.43 million in his career, was last season's Dan Patch Award winner for best older male trotter and the 2012 Dan Patch Award winner for best 3-year-old male trotter. He will start Friday from the trailing position, post 10.
"It's a very good field, that's for sure,” Norman said. "(Bee A Magician) has got a good spot. There's lots of speed in there, and if she winds up getting a good enough trip, she should be good enough to get a piece.”
The field for the Crawford in post order with listed drivers and trainers: 1. Archangel, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke; 2. Spider Blue Chip, Corey Callahan, Chuck Sylvester; 3. Bee A Magician, Brian Sears, Nifty Norman; 4. Flanagan Memory, Brett Miller, Rene Dion; 5. Sebastian K, Ake Svanstedt, Ake Svanstedt; 6. Master Of Law, Jimmy Takter, Jimmy Takter; 7. Mister Herbie, Brian Sears, Jeff Gillis; 8. Intimidate, Ron Pierce, Luc Blais; 9. Quick Deal, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke; 10. Market Share, Tim Tetrick, Linda Toscano.
Spider Blue Chip and Bee A Magician will race as an entry. Market Share will start from the second tier. (HRC)