French trotters impress in qualifiers
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Although SOA of NY president Joe Faraldo oversaw the selection of the 24 trotters for the French American Trotting Club, even he was surprised when Alpha d'Urzy showed up to qualify Saturday, July 7, at Yonkers wearing only an open bridle, an ear hood, and trotting boots with no overcheck or poles. The trotter wears less equipment than any horse in trainer Rene Allard's stable.
"I said, ‘Joe, it's because we understand each other. I speak French to him,'" Allard said. "He just laughed."
Alpha d'Urzy is an 8-year-old son of Opus Viervil out of Amazone River and sports a 6-for-56 record with 118,550€ earned. He's one of 22 French geldings who shipped to New York last month for the SOA of NY's new series, which begins August 5. Two of the 24 trotters were unable to make the trip to America as they got sick and were unable to pass the stringent quarantine testing requirements for importation.
The series required 24 participants to buy in at $28,000, with $25,000 allocated to purchasing the horse and $3,000 to travel. Trainers Ray Schnittker, Ron Burke, and Mike Lachance hand-picked the trotters and the horses were distributed to their new connections in a random draw.
"I was the first one that sent the check in, as soon as I heard about it," Allard said. "I'm always into progress and love to see new things happen and be involved in it. I thought it was a great to have a chance to get horses from a different place. I went to the Prix d'Amérique with my father for his 60th birthday and I went to all the farms. I was excited about it, especially knowing they were going to do races just for them."
Although Allard kept his expectations in check, he's been pleasantly surprised by Alpha d'Urzy so far. The trotter arrived at his stable in great shape and was eager to get to work.
"He looked really healthy, really good, he had a nice coat on him, he was in great shape. His front-end is a little narrow, but other than that, he looked good. When I trained him the first time, he looked like he was really fit, really in great shape," Allard said. "Whoever took care of him for the few weeks before we got him, obviously they did the right thing and kept the horses in good form."
Since Alpha d'Urzy's arrival in mid-June, Allard has trained the gelding two 1 ½-mile trips. Both times, the trotter impressed without exerting himself.
"I trained him the first time and he did it really effortless and he was really fit," Allard said. "I came back the week after, I trained him faster. I gave him a good back-half, good last quarter and he wouldn't blow a candle out. He was really fit and really in great shape. I figured there was no sense in waiting, I'd just put him in to qualify."
The quick turnaround came to Allard's surprise. Accustomed to horses arriving from Australia and New Zealand underweight, stressed, and sick due to the change in seasons from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, Allard was happy to see Alpha d'Urzy handled his trip across the Atlantic well.
"My horse never got sick, never missed a meal. He adjusted really well," he said. "When he got here, I could have raced three days later, he was perfect. When they got here, I thought it was going to take a while before they were ready. I was even concerned about being ready in the beginning of August for the series, but surprisingly, mine came really great."
Allard's experience has been shared by trainer Chris Oakes, who received 7-year-old trotter Bioness. The son of Sam Bourbon and Quiradelle D'hilly earned 119,590€ in 40 European starts before shipping to the U.S. When he arrived at Oakes barn, Bioness drew comparisons to Oakes' $1.2 million earning trotter Homicide Hunter.
"I love him, I absolutely love him, loved him right from day one," Oakes said. "Big strong good-looking horse. I have a horse called Homicide Hunter and that's who he reminded me of. Even when I trained him I told people, this horse reminds me of ‘Homicide.' It's funny because nobody knows what horse you're going to get, you know nothing about any of them, other than you're getting a horse. Rene came up and looked at him in the paddock at the qualifiers and he said, ‘this thing looks just like Homicide Hunter.' "
Oakes found Bioness to be good-gaited, good-mannered, and intelligent. Like Alpha d'Urzy, the trotter wears minimal equipment.
"I had no equipment card of any kind. Just a horse: four legs and a tail. You just feel them out as you go," Oakes explained. "I could see he was sensible, so I ended up going with an open bridle. I could see the way he traveled, he didn't need any boots at all. I just put a light set of trotting boots on and that was it. He's very clean-gaited and wears next to nothing. I think we drew a nice horse."
Oakes put Bioness into an American style of training and the gelding responded. Oakes also thinks ample time spent turned out has helped the trotter adjust to his new surroundings.
"I basically put him into our American style of training. I've got my own farm, so he'll train and then he gets turned out a lot. I'm sure they're used to that, they like that and I'm fortunate enough I've got my own farm, so they spend a lot of time out in the field just to keep them happy," Oakes said. "He seems to have adapted really well. I've only had him here two or three weeks. I put him right to work and he didn't skip a beat. He's happy with his new home and seems to have adapted to our style. It's going to be a little different than what he's used to, but he shows he's got speed."
Bioness qualified last Wednesday (July 4) at Pocono Downs with Oakes' 20-year-old son Hunter in the sulky. It was Hunter's first time in a charted race and he made his father proud.
Bioness tracked in third throughout the one-mile trial. Although he was four lengths behind Allard-trainee Gruden at the three-quarters, Bioness came home in :28.1 to finish second beaten just a neck. He was individually timed in 1:56.1.
"I just told him, ‘be careful out there. Make it a good experience for the horse and yourself.' He's very conservative with the horse and said if he had asked him he would have won it easy," Oakes said. "(Hunter) has been training and schooling behind the gate, but never in a real charted race. I'm really very proud of him because he did a really nice job and it went really well and I'm going to let him qualify again this coming week."
Yonkers will host qualifiers exclusively for the French Trotters at the 1 ¼-mile distance July 14 and 21 ahead of the start of the French American Trotting Club Series August 5. The second and third legs of the series will be held Aug. 19 and 26, respectively and the $100,000 final is set for Sept. 2. (SOANY)