Top Billing, who just missed qualifying for the Hambletonian final, took out his revenge on a Pennsylvania Sires Stakes field Friday at The Meadows by capturing his division in a stake-record 1:53.4 for Dave Palone.
The $286,512 event for 3-year-old colt and gelding trotters, known as the Hickory Smoke, was contested over three divisions, with Frost Bites K and Solvato taking the other splits.
Top Billing finished fourth in his Hambo elim but missed the last spot in the final when Stormin Normand — driven by Palone, ironically — recorded the fastest fourth-place time. In the Hickory Smoke, he allowed the field to settle, pressed on until achieving the lead near the five-eighths and drew off for a 2-3/4-length victory, earplugs unpopped. Beer Summit finished second but was placed back to third for interfering with Wing Tips, who was promoted to second. The time erased the previous Hickory Smoke mark of 1:53.4 held jointly by Bambino Hall, Caviar Crown and Cassis.
"(Missing the Hambletonian) was pretty disappointing, but we’re lucky the PA Sires program is great and we got in tonight,” said Julie Miller, who trains the son of Andover-Hall-NY Starlet for Jason and Douglas Allen. "I told Dave to be cautious out of the gate because sometimes he wants to trot faster than he’s ready to go. So Dave treated him with kid gloves around that first turn. When I saw the first quarter in 28, I wasn’t really worried.”
Dismissed at 14-1, Frost Bites K, who won his Currier & Ives division June 5 at The Meadows, saved ground until the stretch. He popped off the pylons and, once Brett Miller straightened him, poured through the lane to triumph in 1:54 over Lightning Storm and Magic Tonight.
"I’d never driven this horse before, but when we came off the last turn, I thought, man, we have a shot to win this,” Miller said. "He was digging all the way to the wire. He was bearing in a little bit; things got a little tight. But once I got him straightened up, he took off.”
Rich Gillock trains Frost Bites K, a son of Broadway Hall-American Frost, for owner/breeder Bob Key.
Behind faltering cover, Solvato was forced three wide before the final turn but closed sharply for trainer/driver Trond Smedshammer and owner Purple Haze Stables to score in 1:54.3, 2-1/2 lengths better than Boytown. Upfront Billy rallied for show.
"I figured, cover for a half mile is better than no cover,” Smedshammer said of the trip for the son of Donato Hanover-Solveig. "To go three wide is not ideal, but the horse on the front end was tiring, so I don’t think it mattered where I would lose my cover. It worked out to be an easy trip.”
Boots Dunn/Dunn Stable Duo Sweeps $40,000 PA Stallion Series Stake
Friday’s Pennsylvania Stallion Series event for 3-year-old colt and gelding trotters became a showcase for trainer Walter "Boots” Dunn and owner Dunn Stable as their horses, Trustworthy Kid and Redder Than Red, swept the two divisions.
Trustworthy Kid was especially impressive, scoring on the front end for Brian Zendt in a stake-record 1:55, knocking a full second from the previous mark of Groom Hanover. Celebrity Hall was second, 1-3/4 lengths in arrears, with Lindy’s Best Yet third.
"He wasn’t this way earlier in the year; he was kind of lost on the front end,” Zendt said of the SJ’s Caviar-Penn Worthy Lane gelding. "That’s why I was racing him from behind. Last week, he was really brave on the front, so I figured I’d try it again, what the heck. I’m not sure we thought he would trot in 1:55. He probably surprised us a little bit.”
Always a handful behind the gate, Redder Than Red behaved when Tony Hall allowed him to leave a little for early position. Once settled in fifth, he moved with cover and prevailed in 1:55.4 for his second straight stakes victory. Inside Broadway was second by a neck while Bob And Bobby completed the ticket.
‘”He’s pretty aggressive behind the gate, so I had to let him trot out of there a few steps,” Hall said. "Once he gets in a hole, he’s usually okay.”
Elsewhere on the card, Action-Broadway, the 2011 Mare Trotter of the Year, vaulted over the $900,000 mark in career earnings when she overcame post 8 to score in 1:55 for Aaron Merriman, trainer Virgil Morgan, Jr. and owner Ken Sommer. After a slow start this year, the 5-year-old daughter of Broadway Hall-Photo With Molly has won two of her last three starts.
Hall drove four winners and Palone three on the 14-race program. (The Meadows)