by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications
Yannick Gingras has driven in some of the world’s most prestigious trotting races — the Prix d’Amerique, the Elitlopp, the Hambletonian — and, as he says with a chuckle, “I’m yet to win any of them.” He hopes to change his luck Saturday when he returns to the track that launched his career in the U.S., Yonkers Raceway, for the $1 million Yonkers International Trot.
Gingras moved from Quebec to compete at Yonkers in 2001 and in the ensuing years established himself as one of harness racing’s premier drivers. On Saturday, Gingras will try to win the International Trot with Hannelore Hanover, who starts the 1-1/4 mile invitational event from post No. 1 and is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.
“It would definitely be really, really special (to win) back where it all started for me,” the 37-year-old Gingras said. “I was just a kid back then — I’m still a kid — but I was a really young kid then. To me I have three homes. Sorel is home in Quebec, the Meadowlands is obviously a big home for me, and Yonkers is where it all started for me.”
Hannelore Hanover, the winner of 15 of 17 races this year and 24 of 38 lifetime, is the lone female in the 10-horse field for the International Trot. She is trying to become the ninth mare to win the race.
The International Trot was first contested in 1959 and held through 1995. The event was resurrected last year by Yonkers Raceway President and CEO Tim Rooney. It will be race six on a 13-race card Saturday at Yonkers. First race post time is 1:10 p.m. (EDT), with the International Trot expected to go at 3:20 p.m.
Resolve, trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, is the 3-1 morning line favorite and will start from post two. Resolve, a 5-year-old stallion, has won four of 10 races this year and earned $695,513. He heads to the International Trot off a win in the Maple Leaf Trot on Sept. 17 at Mohawk Racetrack. Earlier this season, he finished second to Nuncio in the Elitlopp at Sweden’s Solvalla Raceway.
Hannelore Hanover, trained by Ron Burke, heads to the International Trot off a win over the boys in the Centaur Trotting Classic on Sept. 24 at Hoosier Park. She finished second to Resolve in the Maple Leaf Trot.
“I don’t think because I have post one that it makes me a winner, there’s no doubt about that,” said Gingras, who has won 6,159 races in his career and was the Driver of the Year in 2014. “There are a lot of good horses in the race.”
Resolve and Hannelore Hanover are among three U.S. representatives in the International Trot, along with Obrigado, who drew post six and was made 6-1 on the morning line.
Obrigado has won six of 15 starts this year and 40 of 77 lifetime, good for $1.36 million purses. He was a standout in Maine at ages 2 and 3 before developing into a Grand Circuit trotter for trainer Paul Kelley.
“I never thought I had this kind of a horse,” Kelley said. “When we started training him as a 4-year-old he trained down like a nice horse, but there was no way I could have envisioned him being this nice.”
Interestingly, it was a trip to Yonkers for the 2014 International Trot Preview — the precursor to the return of the International Trot a year later — that Obrigado opened Kelley’s eyes. Obrigado finished fourth, beaten only 1-1/2 lengths in a field that included Natural Herbie, Commander Crowe, Bee A Magician, Arch Madness, and Sebastian K.
“At that point, I kind of knew I had something pretty special,” Kelley said. “He’s actually gotten better each year. Last year he had a pretty good year, we had some ups and downs, but for the most part the downs were all related to just us going through a little bit of a learning curve in terms of shoeing and things like that. As we got into last fall we kind of had things figured out shoeing wise and he’s just been a whole lot better since.”
Rounding out the North American contingent in the International Trot is Canada’s Flanagan Memory. The 6-year-old stallion enters the event off a win in last Sunday’s Allerage Open Trot and has won 18 of 65 races in his career. An O’Brien Award winner at age 3, Flanagan Memory has earned $1.16 million for trainer Rene Dion, who co-owns the horse with Liette Flanagan.
Flanagan Memory starts from post four and is 6-1 on the morning line.
“I can’t complain at all,” Flanagan Memory’s driver Brian Sears said. “It’s a big field and my horse doesn’t have a ton of gate speed, but I’ll just look to get in some flow and hopefully have the fractions work out for me. He’s a solid horse, there’s no question that he’s a contender. He’s got a good spot and Rene has done a great job with him. I’m looking for a little racing luck, that’s all.”
The international group in the International Trot is led by three returnees from last year’s race: Italy’s Oasis Bi, Norway’s BBS Sugarlight, and Sweden’s On Track Piraten. Among the newcomers is Sweden’s Explosive De Vie, who raced in the U.S. at age 2 and finished second on three occasions in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes divisions.
A son of Explosive Matter-Ava, the 5-year-old gelding is co-owned and trained by Jim Oscarsson. Kevin Oscarsson, Jim’s son, is the driver and Susie Oscarsson, Jim’s wife, helps take care of the horse.
Explosive De Vie drew post 10 and is 12-1 on the morning line.
“We are having a great time here,” Susie Oscarsson said. “I’m always dreaming, and this is a big dream.”
Another newcomer to the event is Finland’s Jonsey, who won the 2016 Finnish Championship and 2014 Finnish Derby. He will leave from post No. 3 for trainer-driver Tuomas Korvenoja and is 15-1 on the morning line.
“He’s a really nice guy, cool guy, doing his job always pretty well,” Korvenoja said about his 6-year-old stallion. “He’s never met horses of this caliber before, so it’s pretty interesting to see what he can do.
“We’ve got nothing to lose here. I think he’s had a really good season this year. He’s a strong guy and a half-mile track is no problem. He can leave pretty fast, so we’ll see. We’re thrilled to be here.”
Following is the Yonkers International Trot field in post order.
1–Hannelore Hanover–Yannick Gingras–Ron Burke–4/1
2–Resolve–Ake Svanstedt–Ake Svanstedt–3/1
3–Jonesy–Tuomas Korvenoja–Tuomas Korvenoja–15/1
4–Flanagan Memory–Brian Sears–Rene Dion–6/1
5–Oasis Bi– Erik Adielsson–Stefan Pettersson–5/1
6–Obrigado–Mark MacDonald–Paul Kelley–6/1
7–BBS Sugarlight–Vidar Hop–Fredrik Solberg–6/1
8–On Track Piraten–Orjan Kihlstrom–Hans Stromberg–10/1
9–Tano Bork–John Campbell–Christian Lindhardt–20/1
10–Explosive De Vie–Kevin Oscarsson–Jim Oscarsson–12/1
Tano Bork and Explosive De Vie start in the second tier.
For more about this year’s competitors, visit the Yonkers International Trot website by clicking here.
Article Courtesy Of Yonkers Raceway