Cranbury, NJ --- Earlier this year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs when Cooler Schooner trotted the fastest mile ever by a 2-year-old filly there were many in the harness world unwilling to believe a 1:51.3 mile was possible.
In that Pennsylvania Sire Stakes mile the Jim Campbell-trained filly defeated Merrie Annabelle champion Shake It Cerry, a filly driver Ron Pierce had earlier proclaimed “The best 2-year-old filly” he’d ever sat behind. Included among Pierce’s prior mounts was 2011 Breeders Crown champion Check Me Out.
Then another filly emerged with talent and speed worthy of potential top billing. Her name is Designed To Be and true to her pedigree she was designed to be a great one. The daughter of Donato Hanover took it on the chin initially behind Shake It Cerry in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes competition but would emerge to capture the state championship at Harrah’s Philadelphia in mid-September.
Designed To Be faced Shake It Cerry again during Grand Circuit action at Lexington’s Red Mile and this time she proved the strongest in the stretch, setting yet another world record of 1:52.2. Though slower than Cooler Schooner’s effort over a five-eighths track, Designed To Be was as impressive in victory.
Trainer Jimmy Takter last year sent out would-be superstar To Dream On to a Breeders Crown title at Woodbine. She was indeed a dream last year though slow to find her best stride as a 3-year-old. Takter trains Shake It Cerry as well as Lifetime Pursuit, a winner in six of nine starts this year including a 1:52.3 effort in the second week of Grand Circuit racing at the Red Mile.
The Takter tandem finished one-two in the $321,700 Merrie Annabelle final at the Meadowlands earlier this year with Shake It Cerry, a homebred daughter of Donato Hanover from the top stakes filly Solveig, winning in a personal best 1:53.3 clocking, a stakes record that eclipsed her stablemate To Dream On’s mark of 1:54 taken in 2012.
“This is the best group of 2-year-old fillies I have ever seen,” declared Takter. “Both Lifetime Pursuit and Shake It Cerry are very close. I would say that Shake It Cerry is a little better on the big track.”
In Shake It Cerry’s last outing she finished a solid closing second to Designed To Be at The Red Mile in a race that perhaps saw her get untracked a few seconds too late.
“Ronnie (driver Pierce) told me after the race that he thinks she could have won if he had gotten her in gear sooner,” said Takter in retrospect.
A total of 14 2-year-old fillies were brave enough to enter their Breeders Crown event. That’s a surprising number considering the immense talent among the aforementioned division leaders but these are young trotters, and sometimes they lack polish on the racetrack.
For example, Cooler Schooner may be the fastest trotter in the world, but over the last few weeks she’s had a hard time rating the pace and has fallen victim to closers. Her problems early this season were getting away cleanly without making a break. Hall of Fame driver John Campbell convinced his brother, trainer Jim, to try to keep her calm and let her do her thing without much restraint. The result of that effort was the 1:51.3 mile on August 21.
While she did follow that effort up with another Pennsylvania Sire Stakes victory at Harrah’s Philadelphia on August 30, her next two races, the Pennsylvania Championship and the Bluegrass at The Red Mile, were futile attempts to cut the pace that left Cooler Schooner, a homebred by Broadway Hall, out of gas during crunch time.
On Friday night Cooler Schooner gets the advantage of the rail post position in her elimination heat and the good fortune to have Designed To Be, Shake It Cerry and Lifetime Pursuit facing each other in the first elimination field.
New York Sire Stakes champion Market Rally wasn’t as fortunate as Cooler Schooner. Fresh off her impressive score at Yonkers Raceway, the daughter of Cash Hall landed post seven outside the three top fillies in the division.
Not only is the 2-year-old filly trotting crop bursting with ability, it is also loaded with incredibly well bred fillies likely to make their mark on the racetrack and later in the breeding shed.
Take Goddess for instance, a Donato Hanover-sired filly from the 2005 Breeders Crown runner-up Macaria Hanover. Cantabs Fortune has won three of her six starts this year. She’s by one of the top trotting stallions in the sport, Cantab Hall (who also led all Crown trotting sires in purse earnings in 2012), out of Incredible Fortuna, a Credit Winner-sired filly that finished second in the 2006 NYSS final.
Scott McEneny has another Donato Hanover filly in the field named Demanding Sam. She’s a foal from the 2005 NYSS final winner Whitesand Samantha.
Not only is the field for the Crown juvenile filly trot deep, it is overloaded with Pennsylvania-breds. A dozen fillies in the group were sired in Pennsylvania, proving even before the race is over how far the breeding program has come.
Whether one of the 14 fillies is ready to join the pantheon of all-time greats remains to be seen. However, on Oct. 19 one will take her place next to the likes of former freshman filly trot Crown champions like Peace Corps, Winky’s Goal, Continentalvictory and Snow White.