Monday, August 1, 2011

The Fawkes folk tale

by Jay Bergman for 2011 Hambletonian

Author J.K. Rowling presented her first Harry Potter manuscript to 12 publishing houses and was rejected by all 12. Experts looked at the pages and didn't see potential, let alone greatness.

Perhaps the same could be said for Fawkes, a surprise qualifier for Saturday's $1.5 million Hambletonian [Blogger's note: We picked Fawkes to be in the picture, Ray Cotolo promoted him as the winner of the elim). The colt, named for Professor Dumbledore's mythical bird, hasn't shown much on the program page over the last two years but perhaps now will get noticed on the sport's biggest stage.

As a 70-1 shot in one of two $70,000 Hambletonian eliminations last Saturday night at the Meadowlands, it was hard to take Fawkes seriously. Prior to entry in the big dance the son of S J's Caviar had enjoyed just one victory in seven starts this season. Oh yes, it was a big win coming in the $125,000 Currier & Ives final at The Meadows. But, at the same time Fawkes was essentially reborn out of the ashes scoring at 48-1 in the June 6 contest.

Former owner, and world-class horse agent, Ole Bach seized the opportunity to sell Fawkes after the Currier & Ives. Though he wouldn't release the sale price it was clear that Swemab Inc., a combination of trainer Jonas Czernyson and Swedish owner Mats Bergman, were looking for a Hambletonian-type horse. The dam of Fawkes is a half-sister to Pearsall Hanover, a colt who finished fourth in a Hambletonian elimination in 1999. Pearsall went on to become one of Sweden's elite stallions in the last decade. He's credited with siring the Elitlopp champion of 2006 Conny Nobell and 2010 Nat Ray winner Slave Dream.

Pedigree will only get you so far, but in early July the colt gave indication that he could write his own story on the racetrack. A solid third place finish in an overnight at the Meadowlands assured his place in last week's trial.

Yannick Gingras was asked to drive the colt in his final Meadowlands prep on July 22 where the colt was doing fine until the late stages when slipped offstride but held for fifth. "I got after him a bit too much," said Gingras of the race. "It really wasn't his fault."

Gingras had seen the colt display enough quickness and staying power to feel comfortable leaving the gate from post seven in his Hambletonian elim. Fortunately for the horse and his backers, Gingras didn't look at the tote board to see what the public thought of his chances.

Fawkes raced admirably chasing eventual winner Broad Bahn around the track and keeping pace in the stretch in the 1:53 mile. It was the first time the colt had traveled that speed in his life and the results were encouraging.

"He's just getting into himself and dropping time each time we race," said trainer Czernyson. "He was a slow starter last year and didn't really figure out what racing was about. As a freshman Fawkes raced primarily on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit earning $30,327 with two wins in nine starts.

Agent Bach, who manages one of the Hambo favorites in elimination winner Broad Bahn, is excited about his former horse. "You know being in the Hambletonian is a very big thing in Sweden. This is a great race to be in and obviously would be even better to win."
It's been a big year for Harry Potter, with the final movie setting box office records upon its release last month. It's pretty safe to say that should Fawkes find the wings to upset this Hambletonian field on Saturday it would be a story of mythical proportions.

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