If Sortie can breathe a little easier, so can Noel Daley.
Sortie, Daley’s Hambletonian Stakes hopeful, begins his 3-year-old campaign Saturday by competing in the first of three Pennsylvania Sire Stakes divisions at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh. Sortie is among 18 Hambletonian eligible trotters entered in the three divisions, with each race featuring six.
Last year, Sortie won his elimination for the Breeders Crown and finished third in the final. He also finished second in the Matron Stakes, but Daley believes the colt wasn’t at his best because of trouble breathing. Daley has made an equipment addition in the hopes of correcting the issue.
“He didn’t finish off the race properly in the Breeders Crown; I know he was third, but he wasn’t any good,” said Daley, who trains and co-owns Sortie. “He should have jogged in the Matron and he wasn’t any good. This year he came back and I’ve put a Cornell Collar on him, because mechanically they said his throat was fine.
“He’s been real good so far. I’ve been very happy with him.”
Sortie is a son of former Daley star Explosive Matter out of the stakes-winning mare Win B. Daley was interested in Sortie because of his familiarity with the colt’s family and purchased the horse for $65,000 at the 2015 Lexington Selected Sale. The colt is owned by Patricia Stable, Joe Sbrocco, Mario Mazza, and Daley’s Sortie Stable.
Last year, Sortie went off stride in three of his first four starts (he won the only race in which he did not) before starting to put it all together. He finished fourth in a division of the International Stallion and then hit the board in his final three races of the campaign. For the year, he finished with $122,055 in purses from eight starts.
“He always showed talent, but he would throw his head or when you pulled him off a horse he just wanted to go a hundred (miles per hour),” Daley said about last year’s breaks.
“We’ve been concentrating on that. When we qualified him, (driver Andy McCarthy) pulled him out, put him back, pulled him out, put him back, a couple of times. He seems better. You just have to watch that he doesn’t want to spin his wheels too quickly. He’s a good gaited horse. He just wanted to get going.”
Sortie prepped for his seasonal debut by winning two qualifiers, one at the Meadowlands and the other at Harrah’s Philadelphia. Daley said the horse will stay near his base in central New Jersey as he works toward the $1 million Hambletonian on Aug. 5 at the Meadowlands.
“We’ll try not to overdo it,” Daley said. “It’s a heavy schedule; I don’t want him to be in everything. I’d rather keep him here. He can go (to Canada) later. If he’s good enough, he’s got everything late. I don’t want to have too many tough trips when we’re just trying to get him set up.”
The early favorite for the Hambletonian is Linda Toscano-trained New York-bred Walner, who won seven of eight starts last year and received the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old male trotter. Walner won each of his races by at least 1-3/4 lengths, including a 4-1/2 length triumph in the Breeders Crown.
“Linda’s horse is obviously the horse to beat, but I legitimately think that if (Sortie) can breathe he’s a top five horse, definitely,” Daley said. “After Linda’s horse, there’s no one else I’d swap him for. We’ll see. It depends who steps up. He’s got to step up and do it now.”
Following are the fields for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Sire Stakes divisions in post order with Hambletonian eligible horses in bold.
Division 1: Perfect Spirit, Di Oggi, Meteoric, Gee Wizz George, Sortie, High Glider, Giveitgasandgo, Coogan, Dover Dan.
Division 2: What A Cantab, Stealth Hanover, Monteverdi, Simply Volo, Andy M, Gustavo Fring, Snowstorm Hanover, Media Buzz, Don Dream.
Division 3: Brown Bear, Limerence, Brand New Key, Meme Hanover, Common Parlance, Affair Of Honor, Iron Mine Johnny, Explosive Ridge, Backstage Pass.
Giveitgasandgo, from the stable of John Butenschoen, was last year’s Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion. Snowstorm Hanover, trained by Ron Burke, won the Matron Stakes and Valley Victory.
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications