Although it’s been over two months since Twister Bi stormed to a 5-1/2 length victory in the Yonkers International Trot, trainer Jerry Riordan is still processing what the win means to him. The history and lore behind the International means Riordan sees himself re-examining and reliving that moment for years to come.
"It does take time and it’s something that as the years go by, we’ll reflect on it. Probably even in a different way each time," Riordan said. "Races like that, as the years go by they still keep giving you that pleasure and that satisfaction.
"The International, it comes up every now and again," he continued. "Legolas, who was second in the International Trot – he didn’t even win, he finished second – and they were showing a clip at the racetrack when he was second in the International and he was a big hero. I was thinking to myself, ‘we won it.’ Only for the biggest races will stuff like that happen."
Twister Bi not only won the $1 million stakes, he blew the field away. After pouncing on defending champion Resolve with one circuit to race, Twister Bi raced to a seven length advantage on the backstretch through a mile in 1:53.2 before completing the 1-1/4 mile race in a world record 2:22.1.
After his stateside triumph, Twister Bi flew from New York to Liège, Belgium. The 5-year-old son of Varene made a stopover at a nearby stable for quarantine before completing a 10-hour road trip back to Sweden.
"He was fine, he got home, he was happy. Even when he was aggressive on the racetrack, he’s always been a really cool horse in the barn as far as taking care of himself, traveling, that sort of thing," Riordan explained. "He always eats well, he’s got a really good constitution, so that was no problem at all."
Upon returning home, Twister Bi enjoyed a few weeks off from training before resuming his work. Naturally, Riordan is targeting the €1 million Grand Prix d’Amérique at Vincennes Jan. 28 for his star trotter. This Sunday (Dec. 24), the Group 2 Prix Ténor de Baune will serve as a stepping stone to France’s biggest race.
"We just started him back doing his normal thing, twice a week doing some speed. He’s at the point where I pretty much let him decide what he wants to do," the conditioner said. "I put him in the sulky one time (last week), let him train himself basically. He’s sound, relaxed, so I’m pretty confident in him."
Unlike the four B races – the Bretage, Bourbonnais, Bourgogne, and Belgique – Prix d’Amérique prep races which are open to 4- through 9-year-olds, the Prix Ténor de Baune is restricted to 5-year-olds. Still, this year’s edition attracted a strong field as the winner earns a place in the Prix d’Amérique.
Twister Bi will face Swedish champion Readly Express, who rides a 12-race winning streak including a victory in the Group 1 Grand Prix de l'U.E.T., his last Vincennes appearance, and in the Group 1 Jubileumspokalen at Solvalla where Twister Bi was the runner-up.
Carat Williams, the champion French 5-year-old, Charly du Noyer, champion French 4-year-old last year, and Traders, who beat Bold Eagle in the 2016 Prix Marcel Laurent, are all signed on in the 15-horse field.
Riordan will also send out last year’s Criterium Continental winner Treasure Kronos.
"It’s a tough race, tougher than usual. There’s going to be some horses like Readly Express. He wants to win because he’s the Swedish horse, Swedish-bred, a lot of following up there, people have big expectations for him and he’s a very good horse. I think they’re going to want to win this race and be considered one of the contenders for the Prix d’Amérique," Riordan said.
"I think ‘Twister’ is as good or better than any of them, I really do," he continued." He feels as good as he ever did. We’ll know for sure how he took the trip to Yonkers on Sunday."
Riordan would relish a victory over Readly Express on Sunday. Although the Swedish phenom bested Twister Bi in the Jubileumspokalen, he did so while racing on the lead while Twister Bi was parked without cover the entire 2,140 meters and was still coming on at the finish, losing by only a head.
"I said Readly Express got saved by the bell because Twister Bi was coming back at him at the finish line and he was all out driving him to the wire," Riordan recalled.
Although Christoffer Eriksson drove Twister Bi to victory in the International Trot and many of Twister Bi’s other successes this year, French driver Alexandre Abrivard will take the lines Sunday. Riordan stressed the change is necessary to help Twister Bi navigate the standing start from the 2,700-meter chute, the same configuration as the Prix d’Amérique.
"The standing start, just being able to get your horse in position, get him out of there good. They almost always have recalls and if you don’t know the system, you can end up being a quarter-mile down the track and all the French guys are still up there walking in circles," Riordan said. "If it was a starting car, it would be one thing, but with the standing start, I’m just more comfortable with a French guy driving."
Abrivard drove Twister Bi to a third place finish behind Aubrion du Gers and Bold Eagle in the Group 1 European Trotting Masters Series Final at Vincennes Sept. 9. After racing 18-1/2 lengths behind the pacesetter in that start, Twister Bi finished just a half-length behind Bold Eagle.
The Ténor de Baune will be Twister Bi’s fourth attempt at the standing start. In one prior try, he didn’t handle it well. Another time, he started well, but came away last. In his latest try in the Trotting Masters Final, Twister Bi came away in midpack before losing ground. For Riordan, Twister Bi’s handling of the start Sunday is critical.
"In this type of race, I don’t want to give away a possibility of winning by leaving last," he said. "It’s really important that he gets away at least in the middle of the group. He’s a really good horse, but nobody’s going to make up six or seven lengths on a top horse, it just doesn’t happen."
If Twister Bi qualifies for the Prix d’Amérique Sunday, he will join stablemate Ringostarr Treb, who earned a berth in the French classic by finishing third in the Prix du Bourbonnais Dec. 10. Riordan emphasized what starting two horses in the Prix d’Amérique would mean to him.
"The progress Twister Bi has made, last year at this time, I thought it would be a stretch to get Twister Bi in the Prix d’Amérique. The horse has made tremendous development," he said.
"Ringostarr Treb, he was kind of a surprise because when he came to the stable, I thought he was probably on the downhill side of his career with his best races behind him. Instead, he turned out to be this dynamic horse. Everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it better.
"He’s a cool horse; he’s a smart one. The standing start, if they have five recalls, that’s going to destroy Twister Bi, but the more recalls the better for Ringostarr Treb because he’s so cool in a race," Riordan continued. "He’s got the right kind of characteristics for the Prix d’Amérique. I’ve always thought you need either a horse that’s super powerful or a horse that’s really smart and just strong enough and he’s like that. Twister Bi gives you a little stress because he gets a little aggressive. Ringostarr Treb is just a pleasure to race.
"It would be surreal. There’s a lot of guys out there who are really, really good horsemen who have never even raced in it. It’s not wasted on me that I’m lucky enough to possibly have two in there."--By Brandon Valvo/SOA of NY