McWicked faces Ohio's Nuclear Dragon in Ewart
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Nuclear Dragon has won his two most recent starts at Scioto, both in the Open, by a total of 9 1/4 lengths for trainer-driver Dan Noble. His 1:48.2 win on Aug. 11 is tied for the fastest mile of the year on a five-eighths-mile track and he heads to the Ewart off a 1:48.3 victory on Sept. 1.
Sandwiched between those races, the 6-year-old gelding won the Gene Riegle Memorial by 4 3/4 lengths at the Darke County Fair in Greenville, Ohio.
The Ewart is Nuclear Dragon's first appearance in a Grand Circuit stakes.
"I think the horse is in maybe the best form he's ever been in," said Noble, who is the leading driver at Scioto Downs and ranks fourth in the trainer standings. "He's definitely a very fast horse, and I think he's got some more in there. This was one way to find out, put him in this race to see kind of what he really is."
Noble, who took over the training and driving of Nuclear Dragon in August, said the Ewart would be a gauge whether to supplement the horse to the Sept. 28 Dayton Pacing Derby. The cost to supplement is $15,000.
"We've been pretty high on him," Noble said. "He's been a pleasure to be around. He's a nice little horse and does everything you ask of him. He's got a nice demeanor. You can tell when he's having a good day and a bad day. When he's having a bad day, he doesn't play as much in his stall. Lately, in the last two-and-a-half weeks, he's been doing a lot of playing and is happy every day when you go out."
For his career, Nuclear Dragon has won 21 of 94 races and earned $271,648. He has won 16 of those races and $227,525 since owner Richard Mishkin bought the horse in September 2016.
Nuclear Dragon will start the Ewart from post 10, which is in the second tier behind Western Joe in post one. Nuclear Dragon is 9-2 on the morning line, behind 3-1 favorite McWicked and 4-1 Western Joe.
"I was disappointed when I saw the 10 hole," Noble said. "But the horse I'm trailing, he can get out of there very well. I feel that I should land in a good spot early in the race."
McWicked enters the Ewart off a win in last week's Canadian Pacing Derby at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The 7-year-old stallion has won seven of 11 races this season and is the sport's leading money-earner this year with $885,864. For his career, he has won 29 of 85 starts and $3.20 million for owner S S G Stables.
The Canadian Pacing Derby was McWicked's first start following a three-week layoff to deal with a quarter crack in one of his hooves.
"Everything is really good," trainer Casie Coleman said. "He had no issues after the last race. He's sound on it. He's been wearing a bar shoe, but I'll race him in a regular shoe. He trained in (the bar shoe) yesterday morning. He trained very good, I was really happy with him. He probably doesn't need to train with the bar shoe, but we're trying to be as cautious as can be because I don't want it to become an issue."
McWicked's win in last year's Ewart came in his first appearance at the track. Saturday will be his second.
"He's batting a thousand so far," Coleman said. "Hopefully he comes out of there batting a thousand." (Ken Weingartner/USTA)