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"Magic" drive a perfect gift in Oaks

July 30, 2018
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Tom Durand does not drive his horses in all their races, but the trainer was behind Blonde Magic this past Saturday in her Hambletonian Oaks elimination at The Meadowlands. And it was for a special reason.
 
Blonde Magic is owned by Durand's wife June, who celebrated her birthday two days earlier. Her birthday wish was for Tom to drive her horse in the Oaks. Blonde Magic, with Durand in the sulky, finished fourth in her elimination and advanced to Saturday's $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final for 3-year-old female trotters at the Big M.
 
"She said the greatest birthday present you could give me would be to drive my horse," Durand said, adding with a laugh, "I thought, I could get off that easy. I don't have to go to the jewelry store or anything like that."
 
Said June, "I wanted him to drive because he knows the horse best. I'm just glad she's got an opportunity to be in here. I never over-expect anything."
 
The Hambletonian Oaks is part of a stakes-filled card at the Meadowlands on Saturday, highlighted by the 93rd edition of the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes for 3-year-old trotters. The Hambletonian Oaks and Hambletonian will be featured on a live 90-minute broadcast on CBS Sports Network from 4-5:30 p.m. (EDT).
 
The draws for both races are Tuesday at 2 p.m. and will be shown live on the Meadowlands Facebook page and YouTube channel. Rick Zeron, trainer of the 3-year-old filly trotter Atlanta who is taking on the boys in the Hambletonian, will be a guest on the broadcast.

Durand trained 2011 Hambletonian runner-up Whiskey Tax. Among his other top horses was two-time O'Brien Award-winning female trotter Casual Breeze.

Blonde Magic has won three of six races this year and finished second twice. All of her starts this season prior to the Oaks elimination were in conditioned races at Woodbine Mohawk Park. She was driven three times by Sylvain Filion.

"You have to test the water somewhere," Durand said about moving up in class in the Oaks. "It's like maybe two steps up. Maybe three steps up, I don't know."

In her Oaks elimination, Blonde Magic was seventh after three-quarters of a mile, but came home in :26.3 to finish among the top five and reach the final. No horse came home faster in the division, which was won by Phaetosive in 1:51. Blonde Magic was 6-1/2 lengths back.

Blonde Magic is a daughter of Muscle Massive out of Ally Oop. June bred and raced Ally Oop, who won five races and earned $75,232 before becoming a broodmare. Her first foal was Seven And Seven, who won the 2016 William Wellwood Memorial and competed in the 2017 Hambletonian, where he finished eighth in his elimination and failed to advance to the final.

"She wasn't a world beater, maybe like a (1):55 trotter, but she was very honest and very likable," Durand said about Ally Oop. "She had a great personality. She throws that into her foals. Her first one was Seven And Seven and I raced him down here last year. Unfortunately we didn't do too well in the Hambletonian, but he was a nice, honest horse too."

Blonde Magic was winless in five races last year, but finished second in a division of the Champlain Stakes. She was shut down in September after going off stride and finishing 10th in the Peaceful Way.

"She was just a little immature last year and had trouble putting it all together at the end of a hard mile," Durand said. "It was just kind of pushing her past her limit and her getting tired. There was nothing really wrong with her. She's kind of grown into herself. She was a little underdeveloped and wasn't ready to do it. That's why she didn't have many starts.

"She filled out a lot. She probably weighs 200 pounds more than she did last year. She's got a great attitude. She can be quite a handful at times so we've been really careful to race her very easy off the gate, not get her too mentally charged up.

"But she's solid this year. We're lucky she put it all together."

A great gift, for sure. (Ken Weingartner/USTA)

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