Richest 3YOs of 2018 return for Graduate Series
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Over the previous 30 years, there were six times when the three richest 3-year-old pacers from a season returned to race at age 4. Only once since 1995, though, did it occur when all three of those horses were male. But it will happen a second time Saturday when Dorsoduro Hanover, Courtly Choice, and Lather Up make their 4-year-old debuts in the opening round of the Graduate Series at the Meadowlands.
Dan Patch Award-winner Dorsoduro Hanover, who was the top money-winner among 3-year-old pacers in 2018 with $1.28 million, and North America Cup winner Lather Up, who was third with $893,512, compete in the first of two $50,000 Graduate divisions. Courtly Choice, who won the Meadowlands Pace and banked $910,603, is in the second.
Four more of the top-10 male earners are also entered in the Graduate: American History, Thinkbig Dreambig, Always A Prince, and This Is The Plan.
In fact, most of the richest 3-year-old male pacers from 2018 are returning, with multiple-stakes-winner Stay Hungry, who is standing stud at Hanover Shoe Farms, the lone retiree from the top half of the list.
The only recent occurrence of an all-male top three coming back at age 4 happened in 2015 when McWicked, JK Endofanera, and All Bets Off returned.
“It’s crazy,” said Matt Kakaley, the regular driver of Dorsoduro Hanover. “All the good ones have come back. You don’t ever see that. I think there is going to be some good races. They’re going to take their shots in the older races too and I know they’re going to hold their own.
“There was no standout last year. There were three or four of them that were pretty equal, I’d say off the top of my head, mine, Courtly Choice, Lather Up, Jimmy Freight. They were a little better than the other ones, but it’s not like the next group was far behind. Those other ones can get a little bit better over the winter, too. Hopefully there will be a lot of good races and give everyone some excitement.”
Dorsoduro Hanover won 10 of 22 races last year including the Breeders Crown and Adios. Kakaley said he sees little different in this year’s version of the Ron Burke-trained gelding.
“He might have grown a little bit, but he’s always been a big, good-looking horse,” Kakaley said. “I’m expecting him to do good. I’m expecting him to race good in the 4-year-old races and have a good year. We’ll have to wait and see if he can step up with the likes of McWicked (the 8-year-old stallion who is the returning Horse of the Year in the U.S. and Canada). McWicked is a special horse.”
Courtly Choice, who won 10 of 16 races last season and also counted the Little Brown Jug among his triumphs, had surgery during the off-season to remove an undescended testicle. He heads to the Graduate off a qualifier win in 1:50.4 with a final half-mile of :52.4 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“We’re very happy with the way he’s trained back and the way he’s qualified,” said trainer Blake MacIntosh, who co-owns the horse. “(The surgery) seems to have helped his gait and he seems a lot more comfortable on the turns. We’re looking forward to a great season and hopefully things go our way and we get our breaks and that’s all we can ask for.”
Given the depth of the competition, MacIntosh knows it will not be easy.
“I think the 4-year-old division is probably tougher than the older horses, other than McWicked, when you look at the bunch,” MacIntosh said. “It’s going to be a battle all year. I think the fans are going to have a lot of great horses to watch as 4 year olds.”
Lather Up, trained by Clyde Francis, won 11 of 18 races last season.
“He’s sound and he seems like he came back to his right self,” said Montrell Teague, who drives the stallion. “We’re hoping for good things. It’s going to be a fun year. (All the returning 4 year olds) are good for the sport. There is a lot of money going to the breeding shed, but the sport needs the better ones to come back and put on a show. You can still make good money doing that.” (Ken Weingartner/USTA)