Pierce ready for Elitlopp
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“I’m most likely going to leave for Sweden on Friday, May 25,” Pierce said. “I’ve driven in the Elitlopp twice, in 1993 with Giant Force (fourth) and in 2000 with Ringside Rocket (eighth). So I’ve had some experience over there and I know what to expect. I’m really excited and looking forward to going this year because Mr. Muscleman is so good right now.
“There are a couple of real serious contenders over there, but no world champions,” he added. “There are no standouts like Victory Tilly and Varenne right now. We figure to be one of the favorites if not the favorite.”
Racing fans will be able to watch Mr Muscleman and wager on the Elitlopp simulcast at the Meadowlands. The Elitlopp is part of a five-race program to be simulcast from Stockholm’s Solvalla Racecourse on May 27. Guests will be able to wager on five Swedish races, starting at 10:30 a.m. The final heat of the Elitlopp is scheduled for 10:55 a.m. Meadowlands gates will open at 10 a.m. with free admission until 11 a.m.
In his final start before shipping to Sweden, Mr. Muscleman will square off against Brunton Tilly, the half brother to world champion Victory Tilly, in a $40,000 prep race for the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial on Friday night at the Meadowlands. Coupled in the wagering with Med Vac (#1), Mr. Muscleman (#1A) is rated the 2-1 morning line favorite from post eight in the night’s third race for trainer Noel Daley and Adam Victor & Son Stable of New York City. Daley has already indicated that Mr. Muscleman will skip the $185,000 Cutler Memorial on Saturday, May 19.
The richest Standardbred in training, with a bankroll of $3.4 million, Mr. Muscleman began his 2007 season with two straight wins in the Father Foley Series, April 22 and 29, at the Meadowlands. Daley passed up last week’s series final in order to space the 7-year-old gelding’s races before leaving for Sweden.
“I’ve been very happy both times I’ve raced Mr. Muscleman this year,” Pierce said. “He’s just been really sound, and nice and straight. I really think he has a shot to win the Elitlopp. Sure, I’m looking forward to when he gets seriously tested, and that will come soon enough. I know he’ll dig down deep and give 100 percent like he always has.”
Pierce had to give up the drive behind Brunton Tilly in Friday night’s race. Trained by Richie Norman, Brunton Tilly has won four of his five starts since shipping to the United States earlier this spring. The son of Lindy’s Crown-Icora Tilly romped to a 1:52.3 win over Corleone Kosmos in his last start. Brunton Tilly is the 3-1 second choice from post seven in the Cutler prep. Yannick Gingras picked up the driving assignment.
“Boy, I didn’t want to give up the drive on Brunton Tilly because he’s such a nice horse,” Pierce said. “He might even have a better shot than Mr. Muscleman to win this race Friday, because he’s a little fitter. Brunton Tilly has been racing more.
“The most noticeable difference between them is the obvious size of their gaits,” he continued. “Mr. Muscleman is much bigger and has a much longer, loping stride. Brunton Tilly is a gutsy little bugger with shorter, choppy steps. He sure has a relentless rally to him. He trots fast very easily and he’ll do whatever you want.”
Mr. Muscleman was named the 2005 Trotter of the Year, although he was unable to complete the season due to a suspensory injury. His 2006 season was delayed by knee problems and he made just seven starts last fall before being turned out for nearly five months.
“Mr. Muscleman missed last week and had a lot of time off (between 2006 and 2007), so I don’t know how much he’ll feel like going (on Friday night),” Pierce said, “but I’m sure Noel Daley has him fit.”
Mr. Muscleman is one of the many award winners that have helped make the last three years the best of the Hall of Fame driver’s career. Pierce, 50, is currently the leading driver at the Meadowlands with 128 wins to Brian Sears’ 125. He sits second on the nation’s money-earnings list behind Tim Tetrick with $3.7 million. The U.S. Harness Writers Association’s 2004 Driver of the Year became the first reinsman to pass $12 million for three straight seasons, doing so at the ages of 48, 49 and 50.
Pierce’s total bankroll for 2006 was a career high of $14.4 million, capping a four-year, all-time record of $50 million. He was the oldest driver ever to lead the North American earnings list in 2006 and his 456 wins were also a personal best. He drove a quartet of Dan Patch Award winners in 2006: Total Truth, Donato Hanover, Passionate Glide and Burning Point.
George Teague trainees Total Truth and Western Ace will make their 2007 debut in the $50,000 prep for the Graduate on Saturday night at the Meadowlands. The field of eight will dodge the dominant Lis Mara this week. Since no elimination race was necessary, Erv Miller opted to give the powerhouse pacer the week off before the $285,000 Graduate final on Saturday, May 19.
“Both Total Truth and Western Ace qualified great,” Pierce said. “Western Ace has really been raring to go. Everything is good with Total Truth, but he’d rather just sit around and eat lunch. He doesn’t want to train that hard like Western Ace, who can’t wait to get out there. Western Ace always gives 100 percent every time and Total Truth only does what he has to.
“That’s a powerful entry for George Teague Jr.,” he continued. “It may seem like George has come out of nowhere in the past few years, but he had to work his way up. He’s like me, practically born in a stall. He worked hard for years and years.”
At the end of May, Pierce expects to qualify his top Hambletonian prospect, Donato Hanover.
“I schooled Donato Hanover for Steve Elliott last Friday night before the races at the Meadowlands,” Pierce said. “I went a quarter in :32, the half in 1:00 and a piece, three-quarters in 1:30 and a mile in 1:57. Steve is probably going to qualify him the last week of May. I’m pretty excited about him. Yes, we have some power this year.” (Meadowlands)