by Perry Lefko
The great Timoko is coming to the U.S. for the International Trot and it’s big news for two harness racing fans in different parts of the world with a similar admiration for this French horse.
Kirsten Petersen, who lives in Holland, and Hannah Beckett, who lives in Canada, have followed the eight-year-old star French horse that will make his American debut in Saturday’s $1 million International Trot at Yonkers Raceway. The race has been renewed following an absence of 20 years and the purse matches the largest in the track’s long and celebrated history.
Much of the attention will focus on Bee A Magician, the five-year-old mare voted the U.S. and Canadian Horse of the Year in 2013. She has won 10 of 14 races this year and banked more than $1 million. She has won her last two races, both against male horses, and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the field of 10 and leaves from post 4. To her left is Timoko, who is listed at 6-1 in the morning line.
“Yes, I’m a huge fan,” Kirsten, who has compiled a video list of the horse’s 19 wins in 57 career starts,“I follow every step of him and my dream is to meet him one day and film and photograph him. Too bad I live in Holland. It’s a bit far for that, haha!
“Timoko is very unique. I love how much of a fighter he is and his looks/attitude. He’s very special – haven’t seen a horse like him around. I mean, he’s a stayer, but does it very well on the short distance, too. He’s a quick starter, but can finish (from behind) too. He makes my heart beat a bit faster when he’s going to race again. It makes me so nervous, like he’s a bit mine. It sounds weird, but sometimes I call him ‘my boy.’ If he wins the International Trot, I’ll be in tears!!!”
Kirsten has a background in horse racing, the daughter of Dutch trainer/driver, Peter Petersen, and has owned horses. She loves to watch special horses, and Timoko is certainly one of them.
“Timoko knows about ups and downs, but he’s got character,” she says. “Timoko is like a super, super quick ballerina.”
Hannah, who has been a licensed trainer for four years, is considering traveling to Yonkers because of Timoko.
“There have been many great horses in my lifetime, but few that would compel me to travel more than an hour or two,” she says. “For me, Timoko would be the horse to make the trek south worthwhile. I think he has the potential to show trot unlike anything we would typically see on North American soil. The public backing, the passion and the quality of horsemanship exhibited throughout Europe is a standard we should all be striving to achieve. Not only do we see longevity in the careers of top-flight horses, the benefits that come alongside these extended careers are enormous.
“We see it on a smaller scale in North America, but the incredible fandom that accompanies horses like Timoko have the ability to revive dwindling interest or turn casual bystanders into supporters. This horse has turned me into a devout fan and follower of his career, regardless of the ocean between us. When it was announced that he would be shipping to the United States for the race at Yonkers, there was no indication that he would put in additional starts in North America.
“Taking a flying trip to France or Sweden to catch this incredible trotter in action is unfortunately not likely for someone like me. The fact that he will be racing in the U.S., possibly his only start in North America, means that history will be made regardless of the outcome.”
But what are fans and bettors to make of Timoko? He last raced in Finland in June, finishing fifth. That was preceded by an eighth-place finish in the Elitloppet, the prestigious Swedish race he won last year, cementing his place as one of the greatest horses in European Standardbred racing history. He won five of 14 in 2014 and more than $1 million. But with only two wins in eight starts this year and currently on a five-race losing streak, it is really hard to truly gauge this star, particularly having been absent from the races for more than three months. He will be racing on tight turns, lining up behind a starting gate and facing top horses in training. If this were Thoroughbred racing, an absence of this length would not be an issue, but in harness racing a regular schedule is considered important. If you add all these factors, Timoko may not be the same horse that has starred abroad.
Well, let Kirsten provide some perspective based on her extensive knowledge of the horse, whose victory earlier in the season tied him with Jag de Bellouet with 12 Group One wins.
“After that he went to the Atlantique, which was a hard race, so no blame for finishing third,” Kirsten continues. “On May 1, he got a prep for the Elitloppet 2015, and Richard Westerink, his trainer/owner, told driver Bjorn Goop to not force anything. He finished eighth. In my opinion that failed a bit. I think Timoko wasn’t 100%. The Elitloppet was a total disaster. I didn’t really recognize him. His race after that, in Kouvola, wasn’t meant for Timoko. Firstly, his driver was Pierre Vercruysse, not Bjorn Goop, and secondly he should’ve gotten a vacation already. Glad Westerink gave him one after that. The only thing he had to do was to have fun breeding mares.
“Timoko should’ve started since then, but he got a little bit of a leg injury. Westerink said he didn’t dare take the risk racing him. With any other horse he would’ve just raced, but Timoko is too special. I’m a bit worried he’s starting without any preps in the U.S. But Timoko has some magic tricks.”
She still gets chills thinking about the Elitloppet win.
“Rolled the whole field up, twice. Still makes my mouth fall wide open,” she says. “He’s a horse with a history, but never had real issues, always fighting and he always knows exactly where the finish line is!”
For fans of this amazing horse, it is one more reason to get excited about the revival of the International Trot. French horses have won the race 12 times, second only to the U.S., which has won it 15 times. This will be the first time Europeans can watch and wager on the race.