The three-year-old pacing colts faced off in three $50,000 Pepsi North America Cup eliminations over the course of the evening with the top three finishers from each race advancing to the June 17 final along with one fourth-place finisher (drawn by lot). The post position draw and press conference for the North America Cup will take place on Tuesday, June 13 at Mohawk, with Toronto Maple Leafs' left-winger Matt Martin attending as the guest drawmaster.
Sent postward as the overwhelming 1-9 favourite in the first Cup elimination, Downbytheseaside delivered a 1:50.4 winning effort to keep his perfect sophomore record in tact heading into the final. David Miller drove the popular Somebeachsomewhere-Sprig Hanover colt for trainer Brian Brown.
In the first elim, Sports Column (Chris Christoforou) fired off the gate from post seven with Eddard Hanover (Matt Kakaley) leaving just to his inside to secure a pocket spot through a 27-second first quarter.
However, it wasn't long before Lawrencetown Beach (Paul MacDonell) advanced first-up from fourth with favourite Downbytheseaside hot on his heels.
Downbytheseaside and Miller cleared Lawrencetown Beach past the half in :54.4 and opened up two and a half lengths on the way to three-quarters in 1:21.4. He was untouchable in the stretch while the scramble was on for the remaining spots in the final. Western Hill (Doug McNair) rallied off cover for second-place while Sports Column rode the pylons and edged out late-closer Some Attitude (Tim Tetrick) for third.
Despite Downbytheseaside's winning effort, Miller noted there was room for improvement in his performance.
"I don't think he was at his best tonight for whatever reason, but I've seen him better," Miller said in a post-race interview. "[The wind] could be playing a factor; you're leaving into it and you're finishing into it and it might have something to do with it.
"He was a pretty solid horse last year and got better as the year went on, which is unusual. He came back this year and we can't be happier with him. Just tonight, I wouldn't say he was at his best."
Downbytheseaside is now four-for-four this year following a standout freshman year in which he won eight of 13 races, posted a 1:49 world record mile and banked almost $645,000. The Brown trainee entered the Cup eliminations off a victory in the $300,000 Art Rooney on May 27 at Yonkers Raceway.
He is owned by Country Club Acres Inc., Joe Sbrocco, Richard Lombardo and Diamond Creek Racing.
A top-ranked Cup contender heading into the season, Downbytheseaside is the 9-2 second choice in Trot Magazine's Spring Book.
U.S. divisional champion and early season Cup favourite Huntsville was a wide-open winner in the second elimination, scoring in 1:49.1 for driver Tim Tetrick and trainer Ray Schnittker.
The 1-9 favourite made his move after watching an early three-horse battle that ensued in front through a :26.3 first quarter. Classic Pro (Trevor Henry) persisted on taking the leading role with his inner advantage among the three leavers, but the three-wide Normandy Beach (Yannick Gingras) kept rolling and cleared while Ozone Blue Chip (Brett Miller) took back to third.
Once the top three fell in line, Huntsville rushed to command at the three-eighths mark and clocked middle splits of :55.2 and 1:22.1 before widening his leading margin to four and a quarter lengths in the stretch. Classic Pro finished second with Ozone Blue Chip third after moving first-up in the third panel. Miso Fast (Matt Kakaley) came on for fourth over Normandy Beach and drew into the final.
"It looked like it was easy enough and he caught a nice division and he raced really well," said Schnittker, who bred the Somebeachsomewhere-Wild West Show colt with Charles Iannazzo and shares ownership with Theodore Gewertz and Steven Arnold. "It was a good mile. Probably in the afternoon or something like that it would be a :48 and a piece mile I would think."
Huntsville earned seven wins, including a 1:49 world record victory, and four seconds in 11 starts as a freshman while banking more than $720,000. He has continued his streak of finishing in the top two in all of his four sophomore races including three winning efforts.
"He's a very fast colt, he's a great big colt so hopefully he just keeps getting better as the year goes on," Schnittker. "You never know though."
David Miller earned his second Cup elimination win with another Brian Brown trainee, but Fear The Dragon's 1:50 victory was not without an anxious moment when he stepped on a piece of equipment in the stretch and broke stride.
Ocean Colony (Yannick Gingras) left from post six to establish the lead over post two starter Hurricane Beach (Louis-Philippe Roy) with the 1-5 favourite Fear The Dragon securing a position in third from post seven. After a :27.2 opening quarter, Miller made his move with Fear The Dragon and they rushed to command.
Fear The Dragon carved out middle splits in :55 and 1:22 with Hurricane Beach, who was all over Gingras' helmet throughout, eventually committing first-over. However, Fear The Dragon began to draw away from his competition.
Meanwhile, Filibuster Hanover (Matt Kakaley) swept outside and battled with Ocean Colony in the race for place down the lane. That's when trouble struck for Fear The Dragon, but the Dragon Again-Armbro Cinnamon colt had built up a multiple-length cushion and was able to reset quickly to cross the wire as a legitimate winner on the pace. Filibuster Hanover edged out Ocean Colony for second-place one and a half lengths behind Fear The Dragon while Hurricane Beach finished back in fourth.
"If you watch, leaving the the gate Yannick's horse lost his head number as he was crossing over and I didn't even think of it through the stretch and my horse stepped over it," said Miller, explaining the incident at the end of the mile.
Fear The Dragon recovered to remain perfect in five starts this year.
"I was real happy with him. He was just cruising along there," said Miller. "I asked him a little bit -- he's a bit lazy at times -- and I was real happy with him. He was real comfortable."
Fear The Dragon won five of his ll starts as a two-year-old while banking almost $230,000 in purses for owner Emerald Highlands Farm. He was assessed as the 14-1 fourth choice in Trot's annual pre-season Cup rankings.
Also impressed by Huntsville's winning performance, Miller noted that it will be "a tough, tough, tough choice" on which horse he will drive in the final.
"He was really impressive tonight," Miller said of Huntsville. "The last few times I've seen him race, he's had some running in problems, but tonight that was not the case at all. He looked very good, very sharp. It will be a good race."
Five-time Fan Hanover Stakes winner Jimmy Takter will look to add another trophy to his collection with O'Brien and Dan Patch winner Idyllic Beach a top contender after winning her $35,000 Fan Hanover Stakes elimination for three-year-old pacing fillies.
Yannick Gingras floated the 3-5 favourite Idyllic Beach off the gate from post seven into an early four-hole and began to advance first-over after Jayes A Lady (Louis-Philippe Roy), Soiree Seelster (Sylvain Filion) and Roaring To Go (Brett Miller) took turns on the front end through opening panels of :27.3 and :55.3. Idyllic Beach progressed through three-quarters in 1:23.2 and began to edge ahead of Roaring To Go down the lane before drawing two and a half length clear in deep stretch to win in 1:51. Al Mar Got A Fever (Brian Sears) tracked the winner's cover and finished second over Roaring To Go with Future Headlines (Tim Tetrick) and Dancing Shadows K (Randy Waples) coming on to complete the top five finish order.
After winning eight of 14 races at two and banking almost $730,000, Idyllic Beach is perfect in two sophomore starts. The Somebeachsomewhere-Idyllic filly is owned by Takter's wife Christina, Brixton Medical Inc., and Toronto partners John Fielding and Marvin Katz.
Tequila Monday continued her stakes streak winning the second Fan Hanover elimination in a new lifetime mark of 1:50.4 with Brian Sears in the sulky for trainer Chris Oakes.
Taking a liking to a bigger track surface, the popular Lismore Pace and New York Sire Stakes champion Tequila Monday tipped out from fourth after a :56.3 half while a battle ensued up front as Shes Watching (Scott Zeron) rushed up to contend with pacesetter Bettors Up (Doug McNair) through three-quarters in 1:23.4. However, Tequila Monday closed outside in the stretch to score the one and a quarter length victory, delivering as the odds-on favourite. Bettors Up won the duel with Shes Watching, finishing in front of that foe in the race for place. Agent Q (David Miller) and Action Majesty (Yannick Gingras) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
A daughter of American Ideal out of Margarita Monday, Tequila Monday is owned by Susan Oakes and Chuck Pompey. The consistent filly has finished no worse than second in all 10 of her career starts while banking over $300,000 in purses.
In the first of three $35,000 Roses Are Red Stakes eliminations for older pacing mares, Frost Damage Blues and driver James MacDonald closed off cover down the stretch to win in 1:50.1. Early trailer Pure Country (Brett Miller) tracked the winner's cover and closed widest of all to secure the runner-up honours while Witch Dali (Doug McNair) and Bernadette (Yannick Gingras) finished third and fourth.
Blue Moon Stride (Tim Tetrick) took a brief two-hole tuck before overtaking early leaver Lakeisha Hall (Matt Kakaley) through a :26.2 quarter. The 6-5 favourite Darlinonthebeach (David Miller), who followed in third, then swept by on the way to the half in :54.1 and led past three-quarters in 1:21.4 with Bernadette leading the outer flow and closing in on the leader as the mares turned for home. Meanwhile, Blue Moon Stride came through along the pylons, but the backfield came to life with Frost Damage Blues ultimately prevailing at odds of 6-1 ahead of millionaire Pure Country.
Tom Fanning trains Frost Damage Blues for New Jersey owner William Augustine. The five-year-old Western Ideal-Art Matters mare is now two-for-four this year and has won 14 of 28 starts lifetime for earnings approaching the $200,000 mark.
In her Canadian debut, Nike Franco N swept to command during a leader shuffle on the backstretch and won the second Roses Are Red elimination convincingly in a career-best time of 1:49.2 in rein to Tim Tetrick.
Outsider Lyons River Pride (Trevor Henry) blasted off the gate and crossed to command during a :27.1 first quarter before Call Me Queen Be (Scott Zeron) looped her to take the lead and then the popular JoAnn Looney-King trainee Nike Franco N went by on the way to the midway point in :54.3. From there, Nike Franco N clocked three-quarters in 1:22.2 and kept clear of the pocket-pulling Call Me Queen Be down the stretch. Penpal (Pat Lachance) followed in third while Sandbetweenurtoes (Doug McNair) advanced first-over to finish fourth.
Richard Poillucci owns the seven-year-old McArdle-Nearea Franco mare, who has won seven of her 10 starts since arriving in North America last year. The victory was Nike Franco N's 25th lifetime and pushed her earnings close to $460,000.
Driven by Yannick Gingras, the multiple award-winning mare Lady Shadow continued her current stakes win streak in the final Roses Are Red elimination by wearing down pacesetter and eventual third-place finisher Prairie Sweetheart (Matt Kakaley) and holding off the pocket-pulling Wrangler Magic (Louis-Philippe Roy) for the 1:50.2 victory. Lay Lady Lay (Doug McNair) finished fourth.
Prairie Sweetheart took charge off the gate from post six and led the ladies through panels of :27.2, :56.2 and 1:23 while the 1-9 favourite Lady Shadow progressed first-over from fifth and took over command in the stretch. The six-year-old Shadow Play-Lady Camella mare then held off Wrangler Magic by three-quarters of a length for her third consecutive win this year and sixth in a row dating back to the 2016 Breeders Crown.
Ron Adams trains the divisional darling who boasts 30 career wins and more than $1.9 million in earnings for owners David Kryway, Carl Atley, Edwin Gold, and the BFJ Stable.
Lady Shadow will by vying for her third straight Roses Are Red title next weekend.
Here are the fields in post position order for the Fan Hanover and Roses Are Red Stakes:
$440,000 Fan Hanover Stakes
1. Bettors Up
2. Al Mar Got A Fever
3. Shes Watching
4. Idyllic Beach
5. Tequila Monday
6. Action Majesty
7. Agent Q
8. Future Headlines
9. Roaring To Go
10. Dancing Shadows K
AE: Obvious Blue Chip
$365,000 Roses Are Red Stakes
2. Frost Damage Blues
3. Nike Franco N
4. Lady Shadow
5. Wrangler Magic
6. Call Me Queen Be
7. Witch Dali
9. Pure Country
10. Prairie Sweetheart
AE: Lay Lady Lay
Amidst Saturday's eliminations, Nirvana Seelster posted the fastest mile of the night in the weekly $34,000 Preferred Pace after rebuffing a stern challenge from Ellis Park (Randy Waples) down the backstretch. Trevor Henry drove the six-year-old Camluck-No Strikes Against gelding to a sparkling new lifetime mark of 1:48.1 for trainer Bill Budd and owner Bruce Davy of Brockville, Ont. Fool Me Once (Doug McNair) and returning star Modern Legend (James MacDonald) finished second and third.