When Hurrikane Jonny K turned for home in last week's final preliminary round of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes for 2-year-old male trotters, co-owner Jonathan Klee thought all hopes for qualifying for Saturday's championship were lost.
Instead, he witnessed an incredible win.
Hurrikane Jonny K, who needed a victory to advance to the championship, used an explosive move in deep stretch to rally from fifth place and nip Piercewave Hanover by a nose in 1:56.2 over a "good” track at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Had he finished second, Hurrikane Jonny K would have missed qualifying for Saturday's $260,000 final, also at Pocono Downs, by one point.
Instead, Hurrikane Jonny K will start the final from post three with driver George Napolitano Jr. at the lines for trainer John McDermott. Hurrikane Jonny K is 8-1 on the morning line. Undefeated Billy Flynn is the 2-1 choice.
"It was definitely the most surprising win I have ever been a part of,” said Klee, who owns Hurrikane Jonny K with Jeff Kuhen, Mike Russ and Bob Pucila. "Coming into the stretch, I was hoping he was going to be third and then he just hit a gear none of us thought he had and blew by Piercewave Hanover, Lima Pride, and Walter White, who are some really good horses and are in the final with him.
"All of the owners are in a group chat and after the race all (any) of us could say was ‘wow.' George did a great job being patient with him.”
Klee, an attorney from East Rockaway, N.Y., fell in love with racing when his father, Howard, owned horses in the early 1970s. Klee eventually became a horse owner himself and got to bring his dad back to the winner's circle. He's hoping the two get to make another visit there on Saturday.
"I'm traveling from Long Island with my dad, who is up from Florida, to watch the race, so if he is able to win it will be really special,” said Klee, who in 2012 brought Howard to the U.S. Trotting Association's Driving School as a Father's Day gift.
"We drew well and I'm hoping George can work out a good trip. Clearly Billy Flynn is the horse to beat. He has been really impressive in all of his starts and I expect him from the four post to leave or quarter-pole move to the top to try and control the race. A dream trip would be to sit behind him no matter where he is.”
Hurrikane Jonny K, who is named after Klee, was purchased for $30,000 under the name Heyden De Vie at the 2013 Lexington Selected Sale. He is a son of Andover Hall out of the mare Lavieenrose De Vie. His family includes stakes winners Miss Wisconsin, Miss Nittany, Classical Mary, Classic Adam, and Classic Hogan.
"I had already named horses after my children, Marni and Mitchell, and my wife Nadine, who we nicknamed Schmumma, so I thought since there was no one left I might as well name one after myself,” Klee said. "My family and good friends call me Jonny so I thought Jonny K had a good ring to it.”
Hurrikane Jonny K was winless in his first three races, but finished second twice and third once. His next two starts, both in the sire stakes, resulted in a sixth- and seventh-place finish. But the colt picked up his first victory on Aug. 22 in a conditioned race at Pocono Downs and followed it with his stunning win last week.
"From the (qualifiers) at the Meadowlands to his first start in the PA Sire Stakes when he went first over at The Meadows, finishing second by (1 3/4 lengths), I thought he had promise,” Klee said. "The second and the third legs of the sire stakes were disappointing in that he had a rough first-over trip and a break, but he has really come into his own in the last two starts.
"His size and versatility have really impressed me. For such a big horse he takes the turns great and has a really fluid gait. His races have shown he is comfortable leaving, sitting in a pocket, or coming from behind. Two starts back he wired the field. In his last start he passed three really good horses in the stretch for the win. John has done a great job teaching him to be an all-around racehorse.
"When I was watching those first qualifiers in the spring, you hope for these possibilities.”
Possibilities that seem greater after a win that seemed impossible. (HRC)