If the pieces all fall into place, the connections of Western Vintage could be sipping champagne on Saturday.
The son of Western Ideal is making his return to the races, after being sidelined since late June, in the $225,000 Anthony Abbatiello New Jersey Classic, the fourth of 15 races on the Hambletonian Day program on Saturday at the Meadowlands.
The New Jersey Classic and its filly companion event, the $100,000 Thomas D'Altrui Miss New Jersey for fillies, are restricted to New Jersey-sired 3-year-old pacers. Both events are sponsored by the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey.
In a well-balanced field, Western Vintage is rated the 5-2 second choice (Doo Wop Hanover is 9-5) and will leave from post two with Brian Sears at the lines.
Last season, Western Vintage won five of eight races and earned $316,838. His victories included the $150,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes Championship for 2-year-old pacing colts and a division of the Bluegrass Stakes at The Red Mile. He finished second in the $648,850 Metro Pace at Mohawk.
This all marked the bargain colt – he cost only $7,000 at the 2012 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale – as a potential divisional star at three.
Health issues, however, detoured Western Vintage after four starts this spring.
"We gave him a break after the Hempt (on June 21) for a couple of reasons,” said Perry Soderberg, the colt's co-owner. "One, because he had some really tough races up to that point, and two, his blood work wasn't perfect so we needed some time to improve that. It is a long year and another year after this one, so we want to take care of the horse.”
Western Vintage opened his 2014 campaign with a New Jersey Sires Stakes win in 1:49.4 on May 17 at the Meadowlands and a week later was second to Doo Wop Hanover in the $100,000 final. Then it was on the road to Mohawk Raceway for the North America Cup elims (he finished fourth) and to Pocono for the Hempt (eighth).
Trainer Nancy Johansson qualified Western Vintage twice in July, including a 1:50.3 clocking and 5 1/2-length victory on July 19 in the hands of new pilot Brian Sears.
"Well, Yannick (Gingras, who previously drove the colt) has been great, but he has (Jimmy) Takter's and (Ron) Burke's horses to choose from down the road, and they have been better than mine so far this year,” Soderberg explained. "I know Brian has JK Endofanera and other options as well, but I am thankful that he wants to drive him now.
"All in all, I thought it was time to get the horse used to different drivers,” he added. "He has been a bit tricky to drive, but he better get used to different drivers; that's how this business works.”
Swedish-born Soderberg, who has been evaluating horses since 1986, usually picks out yearlings for others, primarily trainer Jimmy Takter and his owners. But when no one wanted Western Vintage, he purchased the colt for himself for $7,000. Marvin Katz of Toronto bought an interest last October.
With $53,890 earned this year, Western Vintage now has a bankroll of $370,728.
"Western Vintage is coming in to this race in good shape,” said Soderberg. "He qualified well, and I think he is the type of horse that can race good after a break.” (SBOANJ)