Are “Match Races” a thing of the past? Apparently not in the harness racing world, as little Hanover Raceway in Southwestern Ontario has put together what promises to be a thrilling head-to-head match-up between two former champions of their signature trotting race this Saturday night.
The match race pits 2012 Dream Of Glory champion Summer Indian, who recently set a World Record of 151.1 at Pocono vs. the 2011 Dream Of Glory winner, Traverse Seelster who owns an impressive 151.2 speed badge himself which he took at Dover Downs this spring. Andrew Hughes, Hanover’s Marketing Director explains how the idea was hatched a few weeks ago: “After Summer Indian broke the World Record at Pocono, I came into work the next day and we started talking about how much fun it would be to set up a match race between him and Traverse Seelster,” Hughes recollects. “I was thinking that it would be great if we could get these two horses up here to our little track and promote through the match race the types of horses we grow and develop up here in Ontario, especially at the “grass roots” tracks like Hanover.”
So Hughes made calls to the connections found they were excited to participate. Indeed, even though the purse is only $15,000, this is a big deal to the connections based on what Summer Indian’s part-owner Mark Weaver told Standardbred Canada this week. “Even though I’ll have horses racing in the Hambletonian, the Hambletonian Oaks and the U.S. Pacing Championship, the highlight of my day will be the match race at Hanover Raceway,” he exclaimed while noting that his horse is “extremely fast and tough to beat when he minds his manners.” Traverse Seelster’s connections aren’t bringing anyone’s patsy to the battle, though. Their charge comes in fresh off a 154.1 victory at Harrington Raceway which is the fastest mile trotted on a ½ mile track in North America this year by any horse. His connections speak with confidence also. “He’s really matured into a faster, very nice horse,” said Traverse Seelster’s trainer, Gary Green. “He’s really good-gaited, and he’s improved his speed so much. He’s a beautiful horse. He can race either way, so it doesn’t matter how the race plays out. He can do it all.”
The two combatants have flourished since winning The Dream of Glory Finals at Hanover. Summer Indian has won 9 times since his emphatic score in the Dream of Glory last August, including his monster World Record performance on July 5 of 151.1 at Pocono. Here's the Indian's emphatic Dream Of Glory score from last summer:
While Summer Indian has shown problems staying flat in the past, he had no issues with the Hanover oval and trainer Ron Burke seems to have figured him out the past 3 starts in his barn, winning two before tiring on a good track in his most recent effort as the odds on favorite at The Meadowlands on July 12. Traverse Seelster has won 10 times since his 2011 win in Hanover’s signature event, but has really put it together in 2013 with 5 wins 3 seconds and 4 thirds from 18 starts for almost $90,000 in seasonal earnings.
Both connections are so confident in their charges that they have vowed to each make $2,500 win bets into the mutual pool (which will have a special 14% takeout rate for this race) which will provide a big boost to Hanover’s handle for the evening.
Traverse Seelster's showed he too has a fondness for the half-mile oval in this Sires Stakes victory that threatened the track record in the summer of 2011:
As far as strategy goes, the fleet Summer Indian drew the two-hole and Canada’s leading dash winner Trevor Henry, who won driving titles at Hanover, Clinton, London and Grand River last year (all ½ mile tracks) is SURE to gun him to try to make front and play “come catch me”. If Traverse Seelster (driven by another aggressive teamster, Brad Forward) tries to park him early him and the horses get into any kind of a sprint at some point, the track record of 1:57 set by inaugural Dream Of Glory champion Abbey Road C is sure to fall. Sometimes these types of events turn into slow-paced cat-and-mouse games with only the final quarter sprinted all out. If Summer Indian makes the top early. Forward can’t allow Summer Indian to cut too slow of a pace or it will turn into a Seabiscuit/War Admiral type finish.
Summer Indian’s trainer Ron Burke made no secret of his intended strategy when he spoke with Standardbred Canada this week. “With the rail, we can just go down the road and we can beat Traverse Seelster. With Summer Indian, he’s as fast as the other horse and with the rail, we control the race. If they try to get around us, it’ll be tough. If it turns into a sprint, we can sprint with anybody. How we train is like a match race every week. It’s nothing new for him. I’m excited to see how he does.” Post position may mean everything in a dash like this as Traverse Seelster is quite capable of stepping on the gas and hanging Summer Indian out to dry on the first turn, which comes up soon after the start. I imagine that would be his best chance to win the race. Do you think Forward knows who Red Pollard is?
Post time for the Champions Match Race, race 6 on a 12-race card is 8:00 p.m. The festivities get under way with a 6:30 p.m. first post. The Dream Of Glory Final for $70K goes as race 10 and elimination winners El Diablo Rojo, Her Name Is Lola and Enough About You start from the rail, post 4 and trailing 8-hole respectively. Enough About You has been installed as the 6/5 morning line choice but I would expect El Diablo Rojo to possibly go off favored with the two advantages of the rail post and aggressive pilot Bruce Richardson in his arsenal. Hanover will also be showing the entire Hambletonian card on the infield big screen monitor in the afternoon and there will be live music prior to the races, a rooftop BBQ and the always popular and spectacular fireworks display following the races. Yours truly will also try his hand at “guest announcing” a race to be determined (I’m thinking the Preferred 3 pace, race 9 on the card) hoping to improve on this effort.
All in all, Hanover has a great evening of racing scheduled!