Ron Burke says there will be times when 2-year-old filly trotter Mission Brief makes him exclaim with awe, "Oh my God, look what she did.” He also says it's possible he will mutter the same phrase in disappointment. "It's going to be both ways,” Burke said, laughing. "She's very, very fast. All along I've thought she's our most talented 2-year-old. She just has to get her brain settled down a little bit.”
Mission Brief was among 17 horses entered in the Merrie Annabelle Stakes for 2-year-old female trotters at the Meadowlands. Two $20,000 eliminations will be held Friday, with the top five finishers from each division advancing to the $320,000 estimated final on Aug. 2 at the Big M.
Also on Friday will be one elimination for the $280,000 estimated Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old male trotters. Three horses – Canepa Hanover, Guess Whos Back, and Honor And Serve – received byes to the final based on earnings, so the top seven finishers in the elimination will join them.
Mission Brief, who so far has been the season's fastest 2-year-old trotter, is not the only Burke horse entered in the Merrie Annabelle. The sport's leading trainer also sends out Gatka Hanover, who is unbeaten in three starts.
"I know there are people in my barn that think [Gatka Hanover] is better than the other filly, but I've been a Mission Brief fan the whole way,” Burke said. "Hopefully they'll both make it through and they can settle it in the final.”
Mission Brief has won two of three races. She went off stride in her first start, but came back to win her next by 9-3/4 lengths in 1:55.1 and then captured the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship by 13-1/4 lengths in 1:53.3.
A daughter of stallion Muscle Hill out of the 2007 Breeders Crown-winning mare Southwind Serena, Mission Brief was purchased as a yearling for $150,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale. She is owned by Burke Racing, Our Horse Cents Stables, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, and J&T Silva Stables.
Southwind Serena is a half-sister to Southwind Spirit, a Muscle Hill-sired colt that Burke also trains. Last year at age 2, Southwind Spirit won the American-National Stakes and Kindergarten Classic final.
"It was the reason we looked at Mission Brief,” Burke said of the family connection. "And she was beautiful. That [$150,000] was the most we ever paid for a yearling and we thought we got a bargain.”
Burke hopes Mission Brief's two wins are an indication she is settling down a bit.
"She seems to be getting better about her behavior,” he said. "You're just going to have to hope that she picks the right times to put it all together.”
Gatka Hanover has won all three of her races in Pennsylvania, capturing a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars and two divisions of the sire stakes.
"She's never been even challenged,” Burke said. "She's done everything wrapped up.”
Gatka Hanover is by stallion Muscle Massive out of the dam Girlie Tough. She was purchased for $40,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale and is a half-sister to Heaven's Door, who was winless in four races last year at age 2, but has won the 2014 New Jersey Sire Stakes championship and finished second in the Del Miller Memorial.
"We bought [Gatka Hanover] because last year I saw Heaven's Door make breaks and just go unbelievable miles after she ran,” Burke said. "You were just hoping this one would be a little calmer, and she is. Heaven's Door has come back this year and been awesome so we're thrilled to have [Gatka Hanover].”
Gatka Hanover is owned by Burke Racing, Our Horse Cents Stables, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, and Tracy Hendler.
The remainder of Gatka Hanover's Merrie Annabelle elimination, the first of the two divisions, has Wordie Hanover, Demons N Diamonds, Lock Down Lindy, Lilu Hanover, Love Me Madly, Smexi, and Sweet Thing.
Mission Brief's split is filled by Sarcy, Flirting Filly, Onda Di Mare, Hot Start, Livininthefastlane, Jolene Jolene, Whitney Hanover, and Crazy Beautiful.
"You know there are horses that have not yet shown their best miles,” Burke said. "I don't think Mission Brief has seen the bottom and [Gatka Hanover] has never even been challenged. But I'm sure mine aren't the only horses sitting on miles they haven't shown yet. It's just going to be how every horse adjusts to the track.”--By Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications