Under picture-perfect conditions and in front of a crowd of more than 29,000 fans, Commander Crowe won Sunday afternoon's famed Elitlopp at Solvalla Racetrack in 1:53.1 for the 1,609 meters. Commander Crowe bested American entry Arch Madness by a nose in Swedish record time in the second of two elims and then came back to win the final a bit easier with Arch Madness again one length behind in second.
"He raced great, I'm real happy with him," Arch Madness's driver, Brian Sears, told harnessracing.com moments after the final.
Although trainer Trond Smedshammer told the Swedish media afterward that he was "shocked when I saw Brian let Commander Crowe go to command," Sears said he believed it "seemed like the right thing to do and not go to battle all the way."
To watch coverage of the Elitlopp day by Swedish television, click here.
In the final heat, Arch Madness and driver Sears caused a false start but when the race got underway the 8-year-old son of Balanced Image was on the move as he took the early lead. Just past the five-sixteenths driver Christophe Martens moved Commander Crowe to the outside and his three-wide challenge for the lead was uncontested by Sears who led his rival take command.
When Sebastian K and driver Lutfi Kolgjini came up on the outside it kept Arch Madness locked in and looking for room. The room finally came in the stretch but Arch Madness could not catch the winning Commander Crowe. Classic Grand Cru was able to close to finish third.
The 9-year-old Commander Crowe was invited to last year's Elitlopp and was entered to race but he was scratched. His two wins on Sunday give him 48 for his 71-start career. As for Arch Madness, he won his elim last year before finishing sixth in the final.
Commander Crowe, the third-place finisher in last year's Breeders Crown final at Woodbine, overcame a tough second-half trip to edge Arch Madness by the slimmest of noses in the second of two eliminations. The first elim saw an upset as Yarrah Boko overcame post eight to defeat a field that included last year's Crown runner-up Rapide Lebel.
Commander Crowe's final time of 1:51.4 for the 1,609-meter race set a new Swedish record, lowering by two-fifths the previous mark of 1:52.1 that had been equaled by Yarrah Boko in the first Elitlopp elim. "This is the best horse I've ever trained, maybe now you will believe me," trainer Fabrice Souloy told harnessracing.com's European correspondent Lars G. Palm after the race.
In the second elim, Arch Madness and driver Sears were able to take the lead by the opening quarter, which was in a blistering time of approximately :25. With about a half mile left driver Martens sent the heavily-favored Commander Crowe to the outside and made a three-wide brush came alongside Arch Madness in the stretch. A valiant Arch Madness tried to fend off the challenge but he was caught in the absolute final stride.
Finishing third was Oyannax, with Classic Grand Cru fourth to also earn a return trip to the Elitlop final.
A fast early pace in the first elim led to Yarrah Boko and driver Ulf Ohlsson rallying to the victory, with the 2011 Elitlopp winner Brioni and driver Joakim Lovgren also closing fast for second. Early leader Sebastian K was able to hold on for third, with Rapide Lebel, who made a break early but recovered quickly, overcoming a three-wide trip at the half to finish fourth.
In the draw for posts for the final, the connections of Commander Crowe chose first and picked post three because he can get excited behind the gate. Ironically, Commander Crowe overcame post one to win his Elitlopp elim. Arch Madness will start from post four.--Lars G. Palm contributed to this report
Here is the Elitlopp final, in post position order:
2 Yarrah Boko
3 Commander Crowe
4 Arch Madness
6 Sebastian K
7 Rapide Lebel
8 Classic Grand Cru
Also on the card, a pair of U.S.-bred winners reached the winner's circle. Nato Dream, a 3-year-old son of Donato Hanover out of the Pine Chip mare Nugget Dream, won for trainer-driver Stefan Melander in 1:55.1. Miss Sue V won a race for 4-year-old mares in 1:55.2 for Daniel Reden. Miss Sue V, a daughter of Credit Winner out of the Muscles Yankee mare Sunday Yankee, finished second to Jezzy in last year's New York Sire Stakes final.