25 wins, 3 seconds in 29 races over a two-year span. $1.6 million in earnings. A three-peat in the Maple Leaf Trot. Major stakes wins at The Meadowlands, Vernon Downs and The Red Mile (silencing the “yeah, but he never leaves home” doubters). “The People’s Champion”, San Pail has done it all in the past two racing seasons and just keeps getting better and better it seems. He’s done it all…except race in The Breeder’s Crown.
In 2011 he’ll be there. The Hughes family (trainer/owner Rod, mother Susan and the entire Hughes clan) owner Glen Van Camp and the “Pail Posse” -a group of dedicated fans who travel with the great trotter and overflow the winner’s circle with every win -are hoping the best is yet to come. You’d think the #1 ranked standardbred in North America would be considered a “lock” in the Aged Trotter division of The Breeder’s Crown (Saturday October 29 @ Woodbine Racetrack) at this point considering he keeps beating the same horses over and over. Not so fast. This year Europe is sending two of their very best, French “superstar” Rapide Lebel (winner of several Group 1 races in France) and Swedish-bred and owned Commander Crowe winner of the first 23 races of his career and winner of 42 races in 63 starts, with lifetime earnings of $2.2 million. Clearly the Canadian superstar and winner of 47 races lifetime faces some fresh and accomplished challengers.
The European invasion harkens memories of the last invited foreigner to win this event- ten years ago when Italian sensation Varenne stormed the Meadowlands oval in a world-record 1:51.1. Rapide Lebel most recently won the prestigious Aby Grand Prix in Sweden on Sept. 17 in straight heats. His owner, Alexander Prevost has gone on record saying “we are really not afraid of San Pail” which may have touched a nerve with San Pail’s regular reinsman Randy Waples who said in an interview after San Pail’s win in the Allerage Trot at The Red Mile “I wouldn’t trade San Pail for any horse in the world...I think they should be more worried about him”. Waples added that he is “afraid of them all” because on any given night you can get beat, but “they’d better take a good look at San Pail”. Waples confidence is not just bravado it appears. San Pail has become a last quarter machine this summer, firing off sub-28 second quarters in all but 2 of his past 12 starts including a 26.3 last quarter at the Red Mile in the Allerage while under no urging whatsoever.
San Pail likely holds a large advantage racing on his home track with his tactical speed and his ability to finish off miles with authority. While Europeans race typically with a “grinding” style chasing slow early fractions at distances greater than the traditional North American mile, San Pail has the ability to “brush” quickly to the top and give himself a breather in the second and/or third quarters, then sprint home. The configuration of the Woodbine track tends to find the field “gapped out” or well-spaced on the backstretch during the second quarter regardless of the fractions that are being clicked off (which is a major advantage for the leader and “pocket sitter“ that is racing with the leader‘s cover).
I look for Waples to put San Pail on the front end either from the outset or in the second quarter then give the People’s Champ a 3rd quarter breather and say “come and get me boys” as they turn for home. If the Euros wait too long to mount a challenge, they are going to likely need to fire off a last quarter under 27 seconds to get past the Canadian champion. Very few trotters possess the ability to trot home under 27.0-San Pail has proven he can finish his miles powerfully all year long. This race promises to be the Race of the Year and one thing is certain: The Hughes Family and “Pail’s Posse “ will raise the roof if the 7-year-old son of San Pellegrino gets the job done; and Woodbine will need to find a way to expand the winner’s circle for the photo.