Even now as trainer Linda Toscano thinks about 5-year-old trotter Market Share's path to stardom, she shakes her head in disbelief.
"Timmy and I were talking about it the other day,” Toscano said, referring to Market Share's regular driver, Tim Tetrick. "Never, never in a million years did we dream that this horse could be this kind of horse. He's just one of those horses that enjoys his work and tries real hard. It's surprising, but that's good.”
Market Share, a two-time Dan Patch Award-winning division champion, is expected to be among the numerous big names heading to the Meadowlands on Saturday morning for qualifiers. Also in that group should be Jimmy Takter trotting standouts Father Patrick, Nuncio, and Shake It Cerry.
As a 2-year-old Market Share won all five of his starts at half-mile-oval Freehold Raceway, but Toscano and principal owner Richard Gutnick were uncertain if he could excel at the big tracks, such as the Meadowlands.
All Market Share did at age 3 was win the $1.5 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands and the $1 million Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk en route to earnings of $2 million. He was named the Dan Patch Award winner for best 3-year-old male trotter.
Last season, his wins included the Breeders Crown Open Trot, Maple Leaf Trot, TVG Free For All Series Championship and American-National Stakes. He led all older trotters with $1.07 million in purses and received the Dan Patch Award for best older male trotter.
"It's a treat to be able to bring one back like that as a 5-year-old,” Toscano said. "Fortunately his owner likes to race. Hopefully he'll come back as good as he was.
"By bringing back the older horses, people recognize the names and the horses become the stars again. I think that's what is missing in our industry. I think it's a real good thing.”
Gutnick, who was harness racing's Owner of the Year in 2012 when he also campaigned Horse of the Year Chapter Seven, shares ownership of Market Share with TLP Stable and Bill Augustine.
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Jimmy Takter expects to bring more than a dozen horses to Saturday's qualifiers at the Meadowlands, among them some of the biggest names in harness racing: Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry, Nuncio, and Lifetime Pursuit.
Father Patrick was last season's Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male trotter and Shake It Cerry was the Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter. Nuncio, who last year raced for trainer Jim Oscarsson but joined the Takter Stable during the winter after Oscarsson returned to his native Sweden, was a stakes winner and four-time runner-up to Father Patrick. Lifetime Pursuit also was a stakes winner.
In the Hoof Beats predictive rankings for 3-year-old trotters, based on projected earnings this season, Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry and Nuncio all rated in the top four. Lifetime Pursuit was No. 12.
"All of them are coming back awesome,” Takter said. "It should be interesting.”
Another of Takter's standouts, 5-year-old trotter Uncle Peter, debuts Friday night at the Meadowlands. Uncle Peter earned $519,232 last year – second to only Market Share among older trotters – and trotted the fastest mile ever by a 4-year-old on a five-eighths-mile track, 1:50.3 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
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Market Share and Uncle Peter have both been mentioned as possible invitees for the prestigious Elitlopp in Sweden, but trainers Toscano and Takter are taking wait-and-see approaches when it comes to deciding whether they would send the horses. Travel logistics are a concern, as well as wanting to see how the horses race this season.
"If he goes out Friday and shows me something, I might go to Denmark first and race him two weeks earlier in the Copenhagen Cup,” Takter said about Uncle Peter. "We'll see. He's the world record holder on the five-eighths track. He's a good horse.”
The Copenhagen Cup, traditionally held the second weekend in June, is May 11 this year. The Elitlopp is May 25.
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Five-year-old male pacer Bolt The Duer qualified for the second time this year on Thursday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, winning in 1:54.1.
Regular driver Mark MacDonald was at the lines for trainer Pete Foley. Afterward, MacDonald tweeted, "Bolt The Duer sharp again today; one more fast qualifier next week then the first leg of TVG (Series) at the Meadowlands. Came back great.” (You can follow MacDonald at @MarkMacRacing.)
Bolt The Duer, who has set multiple world records during his career, has won 19 of 47 lifetime races and $1.72 million for owner All Star Racing.
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After a year in which he dominated in Pennsylvania, 3-year-old male pacer Allstar Partner is taking his game on the road. The John Butenschoen trainee makes his 2014 debut as the 2-1 morning line favorite in Saturday's $49,015 Reynolds Memorial at the Meadowlands.
Allstar Partner won last season's Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship for 2-year-old male pacers on his way to earning $282,454 for owners VIP Internet Stable and Michael Foti. He was victorious in seven of 10 races, including divisions of the Historic-Goshen Cup and Arden Downs, while making all of his starts in Pennsylvania.
A son of stallion Four Starzzz Shark out of the mare Faithful Ideal, the horse was a $10,000 yearling purchase at the 2012 Lexington Selected Sale.
"I'm happy with him,” Butenschoen said. "He had a very uneventful winter. He grew up like you would hope; he's a bigger, stronger version of himself.”
Allstar Partner, who was driven most often by Corey Callahan, had a six-race win streak stopped by a third-place finish in a division of the Keystone Classic to end 2013.
"We scoped him and he had bled, so we've put him on Lasix,” Butenschoen said. "That's the only difference this year compared to last year.
"We've paid him into quite a few (stakes races) this year. If he's good enough, he'll get a shot. Some of the horses he beat (in Pennsylvania) last year did well in open company.”
The stakes races to which Allstar Partner is eligible include the Meadowlands Pace, American-National Stakes, Carl Milstein Memorial, Circle City, Matron Stakes, and Monument Circle, plus events in Pennsylvania.
Here is the field for Saturday's Reynolds Memorial for 3-year-old male pacers: 1. Frankandjoanne, 2. Stratos Hanover, 3. Best Said, 4. The Lunch Pail, 5. Air Force Grad, 6. Card Shock, 7. Parnu Hanover, 8. Allstar Partner, 9. Always B Miki.
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Driver David Miller entered Friday needing 13 wins to reach 11,000 for his career. He ranks No. 8 for most victories in North American harness racing history. Stephane Bouchard entered Friday needing three wins to reach 8,000.--By Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications