Calle Wihlborg's European champion Commander Crowe was committed to the $600,000 Breeders Crown Trot by the noon deadline on Saturday, Oct. 13, but he had one small obstacle to complete before making travel plans for the Oct. 27 event. Trainer Fabrice Souloy and driver Christophe Martens had to race the 9-year-old gelding in a "prep” for the Breeders Crown, the Grand Prix du Sud-Ouest, a mile and an eighth test, on Sunday, Oct. 14, and hope that all went well for Commander Crowe in his first race in a month.
The enforced vacation came after Commander Crowe finished second in the Aby Stora Pris in Sweden behind Sebastian K, a trotter he handled easily in the past. Wihlborg and Souloy had to seek a balance between the right number of races for the chestnut sensation and getting enough foundation under him to fly to Toronto ready to go against the top trotter in North America, defending sophomore Crown champion Chapter Seven. Commander Crowe made the same trek in 2011 and finished third in the Crown Trot behind eventual Horse of the Year San Pail and the other foreign invitee last year, Rapide Lebel.
Commander Crowe finished third in the Grand Prix du Sud-Ouest in Agen, France, displaying the big engine that has carried him to nine wins in 13 starts this year. "He had a bad number (post) in eight,” said Souloy after the race. " He had to go around the whole field and just could not catch the winner.”
According the French press, the winner, Roi Du Lupin and driver Anthony Barrier were determined to make Commander Crowe catch them on the lead and ended up setting a track record in the process. Save The Quick was second and Commander Crowe third on a rainy and cold day.
"I'm not concerned by it," continued Souloy. "The way it went it was not a nice race, but he is good. He will fly to Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 25, two days before the race. In between we will just train very slowly, as we try to race every two or three weeks with him and he has many starts this year already.”
Commander Crowe dominated the international trotting calendar this year, winning the Oslo Grand Prix, Elitlopp, Kymi Grand Prix, Olympic Trot, Hugo Åbergs Memorial and Forus Open for more than $1.5 million in purses.
Commander Crowe will be the first foreign invitee to return to the Breeders Crown. In accepting the invitation, Wihlborg emailed his intent. "We are looking forward of coming to Toronto again. This time we hope that we can go the whole way!”
The Hambletonian Society, which owns the Breeders Crown races, has the discretion to invite up to two foreign-based horses that have won a Group [i.e. Grade] 1 International Race outside North America each year. Foreign invitations are conditional. Horses must win a Grade I stake The connections of invited horses must pay the starting fee ($12,000) as well as the amount of the sustaining payments ($3,000) for the $600,000 race. However, once properly declared they advance directly to the final and bypass eliminations, should they be needed.
The last invited foreigner to win this event was 12 years ago when Italian sensation Varenne stormed the Meadowlands oval in a world-record 1:51.1. Though another Italian stallion, Equinox Bi, was placed first in this event at Mohawk over Corleone Kosmos in 2007, he entered the race as a supplement.
Supplemental payments for the Breeders Crown Three-Year-Old Events and Open events were due and payable on Monday, Oct. 15, at 12:00 noon in the racing secretary's office at Mohawk Racetrack [905-854-7805]. There are no supplemental provisions for two-year-olds. Eligible horse must entered by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, also at the Mohawk race office. The complete list of horses eligible to all 12 Breeders Crown events as well as the racing conditions can be found at http://www.hambletonian.org/. (Breeders Crown)