Harness racing fans could witness the first sub-1:50 trotting race on a mile track Saturday at the Meadowlands, but if not then, it is probably just a matter of time.
Saturday's $175,000 Arthur J. Cutler Memorial for older trotters features a speedy group of 10 horses, including newly minted world champion Sebastian K. The former Swedish star won his Cutler elimination last week, which was his North American debut, in a world-record-equaling 1:50.1.
But the field also includes two-time Dan Patch Award-winner Market Share, who captured his Cutler elimination in 1:50.3, and Arch Madness, who holds the world record of 1:50.2 for an older gelding trotter on a mile oval.
All totaled, the Cutler Memorial features six trotters to win in 1:51 or less at some point in their careers. Sevruga has a lifetime-best mark of 1:50.3, which he accomplished on a five-eighths-mile track while setting a world record. Intimidate and Modern Family each has a career-best time of 1:51.
"It's going to be a good race,” said Tim Tetrick, who drives Market Share for trainer Linda Toscano. "If it sets up right, someone could set the world record. There's got to be some speed up front; I don't think one horse can do it by himself. It will be a chess match in the middle of the race, but people will be putting horses in play.
"These horses are fresh and happy and sprinting home good. There are five or six that can trot a quarter in 26 (seconds) on the end of it. Who knows how fast we can go.”
Elimination winners Sebastian K, who was Sweden's Horse of the Year in 2012, and Market Share have attracted much of the pre-race attention and were essentially made co-favorites for the Cutler. Market Share is 8-5 on the morning line; Sebastian K is 9-5.
But any number of horses is capable of winning the Cutler. Sevruga won last year's race and Arch Madness, a 10-year-old who has earned $4.15 million in his career, captured the 2010 edition. Intimidate has a Breeders Crown triumph to his credit, Archangel won the 2012 Yonkers Trot, and Modern Family won last year's Meadowlands Maturity.
"Everybody makes it seem like it's a two-horse race, but I think it's far from a two-horse race,” said Yannick Gingras, who drives Archangel for trainer Ron Burke. "You have a lot of depth in this field. Sebastian K is definitely very fast, but the trip did set up for him (in his elimination). We will see what he can do this week.
"They have to go fast, but (Sebastian K and Market Share) might hook up, too. There are 10 horses in the race and I think they can do 1:51 or better. A lot of these horses are super sharp and my horse is only going to keep improving. We need a little luck at this point, but I don't think it's impossible.”
The top five finishers in Sebastian K's Cutler elim all trotted 1:51 or less, marking the second time in history that five trotters went that fast in the same race. The other occurrence came in Arch Madness' 1:50.2 win at Lexington's Red Mile in September.
"If the fractions are right (they could go faster than 1:50),” said Bernie Noren, the assistant to Sebastian K's trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt. "Of course it's a harder competition; you've got 10 good horses. It's all about the fractions; somebody has to put up the fractions to the half.
"With this group (of older trotters) I'm a hundred percent sure we're going to see not one, but maybe a couple, under (1):50 this year.”
John Campbell, who drives Possessed Fashion for trainer Tom Fanning, was not surprised by the 8-year-old Sebastian K's performance in his debut.
"I knew going in to the race that he was an excellent horse,” said Campbell, who won the prestigious Elitlopp in Sweden with Mack Lobell in 1988. "When you have a horse that races at that top level over in Europe like he has for the last couple years, they're excellent horses. I wasn't that surprised that he won or was that impressive because I have so much respect for what those top free-for-allers do over in Europe and how grueling it is over there.
"(Sebastian K) is definitely the horse to beat, but he's going to have to be at his best or somebody will beat him. At this level, if you're not at your very best, you're not going to win.
"I think we're going to see someone trot under 1:50 in the very near future, whether it's Saturday or shortly after that.I think it will happen this year, and I think there's a good chance it will happen more than once.”
Following is the field in post order for the Cutler Memorial with drivers, trainers and morning line: 1. Sebastian K, Ake Svanstedt, Ake Svanstedt, 9-5; 2. Market Share, Tim Tetrick, Linda Toscano, 8-5; 3. Sevruga, Ron Pierce, Julie Miller, 8-1; 4. Archangel, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke, 15-1; 5. Intimidate, Vincent Ginsburg, Luc Blais, 10-1; 6. Undercover Strike, Corey Callahan, Jonas Czernyson, 30-1; 7. Arch Madness, George Brennan, Trond Smedshammer, 8-1; 8. Possessed Fashion, John Campbell, Tom Fanning, 50-1; 9. Modern Family, David Miller, Daryl Bier, 6-1; 10. DW's NY Yank, Mike Lachance, Ron Burke, 30-1. (HRC)