Horse of the Year candidate Check Me Out, rebounding from her disastrous misstep in the Hambletonian Oaks, returned to form Friday at The Meadows when she overpowered a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes division in a stakes-record 1:53.4. Superstar Hanover won nearly as impressively in the other split of the $281,114 event, known as the Meadow Bright, for 3-year-old filly trotters.
In the Oaks, Check Me out was in front when, according to her driver, Tim Tetrick, she brushed and spun a knee boot, which eventually dropped to her foot. She broke stride and, though she finished third, was placed eighth for interference. It was the only time in her 25-race career, which now includes 21 victories, that she's been worse than second.
"That was a freak deal, Tetrick said. "She just took a bad step. Every athlete does it. She was on her way to victory and took a bad step.
In the Meadow Bright, Tetrick kept the daughter of Donato Hanover-Illusion Bi wide until she crossed over just before the three-eighths. That turned out to be prescient strategy, as two breaking horses along the cones would have made ducking perilous.
"I wanted to keep her out of harm's way and give her a lot of confidence, Tetrick said. "I wanted her to make her move whenever she wanted to.
She was unchallenged thereafter, drawing off to win by 6 3/4 lengths over Delicious, with Voluptuous Ronda fourth-placed-third. The time erased the stake mark of 1:54.2 set two races earlier by Superstar Hanover.
Ray Schnittker trains Check Me Out and owns with Charles Iannazzo. With the win, Check Me Out vaulted over $1.5 million in career purses and earned Tetrick's unequivocal praise.
"She's the best trotter I ever drove, he said.
Superstar Hanover may have been overshadowed by Check Me out, but she padded her strong resume by reaching $447,051 in lifetime earnings. Much like Check Me Out, she needed nearly three-eighths to get the lead but jogged thereafter, downing Real Babe by 5 lengths. Southwind Moni finished third.
"I drove her last year, and she was a Cadillac to drive then, said winning pilot Dave Palone. "I had a chance to fall in third, and that's no good, so as soon as the dust settled, I moved her back to the front. That's a very respectable mile.
Jimmy Takter trains the daughter of Cantab Hall-Star Hanover for Christina Takter, John Fielding and Louie Camara.
Friday's card also featured three divisions of a $60,000 Pennsylvania Stallion Series Stake for 3-year-old filly trotters. Upfront Bye Bye provided the highlight when she shot the Lightning Lane to score in a stakes-record 1:56.3, erasing the previous mark of 1:57.2 held jointly by Photo Charm and Filly Bay.
"She's actually not good on the lead, said winning driver Brian Zendt. "I had to get a couple horses seated, but I'm glad another horse came at us. She gets lost on the lead and usually gets beat on the lead. She likes to follow a helmet for a while, so that worked out perfect for us. She's gate handy that helps.
Komma Ka Z was second, 1-1/4 lengths in arrears, with Meadowbranch Jill third. Bill Zendt trains the daughter of Cantab Hall-Bye Bye Kerry for Ed Mullinax.
Aldebaran Malibu was severely shuffled but was able to scoot up the Lightning Lane and triumph in 1:57.2 for Brett Miller, trainer Jonas Czernyson and owner Aldebaran Park Inc. Early leader Powell Blue Chip was second by three-quarters of a length, with Say What third.
"We definitely needed racing luck on our side, Miller said of the daughter of Cantab Hall-Malibu Magic. "But the filly was very good. They told me she's normally very hot, but they got this new driving bit in from Australia and they thought it would help her. It did. She was two fingers' to drive.
Amity's Lalabye seemed hopelessly out of it as the field turned for home, 3 1/2 lengths back with plenty of traffic in front of her. But when two contenders broke stride, the daughter of Broadway Hall-Amity's Winner outlasted the others in a 32 final panel to score in 1:58.3. Did Greg Grismore think he could win at the top of the stretch?
"Not at all, Grismore said. "I just got lucky. A couple of them ran, and a couple got tired. She trotted okay right through the wire. It was just one of those things where we were in the right place at the right time.
Hooray Katie came up a neck short in second, with Mariko Hanover third. Rich Gillock trains Amity's Lalabye for owner/breeder Bob Key. (The Meadows)