Despite McWicked and Lazarus N failing to visit the winner’s circle in their last pari-mutuel engagements, their connections anticipate each horse to be at their best when they clash for the third time this season in Friday’s (Sept. 21) $175,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby.
“I’ve been thrilled with McWicked all year and really shouldn’t say this, but I was a little disappointed with his last start,” said his trainer, Casie Coleman. “He was fourth (in a dead heat) at Scioto Downs (in the $250,000 Jim Ewart Memorial on Sept. 8) and was only beaten a length, but I thought I had him better prepared. I put it out in the press about the quarter crack and maybe with all the rain that night the track was hard, so that foot could have been stinging him.
“Also, I know he has won at Scioto before (2017 Ewart Memorial), but I didn’t realize how short the stretch is there. I was so happy with his trip when he was coming to the last turn second-over, in fact, I think it’s the best trip he’s had all year, but it takes him a little while to change gears. He can fly, but he needs the opportunity to get going and he might not have had it that night.”
McWicked, pictured in August of 2017 in Millgrove, Ontario (Michael Burns Photography)
Coleman was not the only one that was a bit perplexed by the performance of her horse, as Duncan Taylor was not exactly satisfied with Lazarus N’s two starts at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
After a stellar U.S. debut where the six-year-old New Zealand star defeated McWicked in the $325,000 Dan Patch Invitational at Hoosier Park on August 10, Lazarus N was second to that rival in the $462,000 Canadian Pacing Derby at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Sept. 1. The horse then finished in the same position behind Nirvana Seelster over the same surface in a $26,180 Preferred on September 15 after a first-over journey.
“I was a little disappointed with what happened in Canada,” said Duncan Taylor, who owns the horse with his brothers as Taylor Made Stallions. “The first race Jimmy (Takter, his trainer) said he came out of it sick, and Yannick (Gingras, his driver) said he knew at the half-mile point he wasn’t himself. In the second race, Yannick was much happier with him, although he didn’t win. He said he felt much better and there was a large improvement from the first race.
“Jimmy felt the same way and said we should send him back out to Hoosier Park. As with anything all we can do is see what happens, but Jimmy and Yannick both think he is ready for the race in Indiana.”
Lazarus winning the Dan Patch at Hoosier Park on August 10 (Linscott Photography)
Although the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby will certainly include other talented horses in the field and is one of seven Grand Circuit events on an outstanding card, the third meeting between Lazarus N and McWicked is particularly intriguing, as the two horses not only are among the leaders in their division, but appear to possess very comparable levels of ability.
When Lazarus N defeated McWicked in the Dan Patch, Gingras placed him on the lead after the first quarter-mile, while McWicked came out of the gate in sixth. At the top of the stretch, McWicked had only advanced to fifth and maneuvered his way through traffic with a blazing :25.2 final quarter to finish third.
In the Canadian Pacing Derby, Lazarus N was again sent to the lead after the first quarter-mile, while McWicked began his mile in sixth place. On this occasion, however, McWicked was in fourth at the half-mile pole and made a sustained first-over move to draw alongside Lazarus N, who offered little resistance, on his way to the wire.
After the two meetings, expectations were high that the two horses, who have earned $2.9 million (Lazarus N) and $3.2 million (McWicked) respectively, were poised to provide the sport with an exceptional rivalry. The third rendezvous will be much more than a rubber match, as the horses have nearly identical agendas for the rest of the year, and is a preview of the quality pacing to come.
“’Wicked’ had the week off after his last race and trained on Saturday and will train on Tuesday before he ships to Hoosier Park,” Coleman said. “I’ve been shipping him short all year long, like the day before or the day of a race, but this time we are sending him a few days earlier. We are changing things so I can find out if there is something I need to fix so he is not flat like he was at Scioto. This way he gets a few days to recover from shipping, if that was the problem.
“After that he will go to (the) Red Mile where he will be stabled. We will go to Dayton, then back to (the) Red Mile to race there, and then we will bring him back to Canada to prepare for the Breeders Crown.”
Lazarus N might not follow exactly the same route, but the plans his connections have for him are quite similar.
“When he is finished racing at Hoosier Park, the horse will come to Lexington and be pointed to the Red Mile,” Taylor said. “If all goes well then it is on to the Breeders Crown.”