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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scott DiDomenico hopes “Cookie” is a monster in Saturday’s $600,000 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly pacers at Woodbine Racetrack.

Handsoffmycookie is 15-1 on the morning line, but with eight wins in nine starts there is no question the filly is accustomed to finding her way to the winner’s circle.

In fact, only a head loss to Pirouette Hanover in the $363,900 Sweetheart Pace on Aug. 20 at the Meadowlands prevents Handsoffmycookie from being the second consecutive New York Sire Stakes champion to enter the Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly pace final with an undefeated record. Last season, it was See You At Peelers, who captured the Crown at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

“It’s been a dream,” said DiDomenico, who trains Handsoffmycookie for owner Joann Fucci’s JFE Enterprise. “She’s the one horse you dream about your whole life. She’s really been special.

“She loves to win. She’s got a killer instinct and she does not want to lose. She’s going to give it her all every time. To say we thought she would be in the Breeders Crown and go 8-for-9, I think that would be a little extreme. We thought she had a lot of talent from the beginning on. It’s just worked out.”

Handsoffmycookie winning NYSS race - Tom Berg photo
Handsoffmycookie was purchased last November for $25,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale and represents one of the first ventures into the yearling market by DiDomenico and Fucci.

“It’s surreal,” said Fucci, who lives in New York, not far from Yonkers Raceway, and operates a demolition contractor company with her husband Ed. “From November to this, it’s just unbelievable.

“We are so proud of her and the team that works with her. Whatever happens now is great. Just getting here has been an amazing adventure. I’m trying not to think about (the Breeders Crown) because I might bite off all my nails between now and Saturday.”

Handsoffmycookie has raced entirely on the New York Sire Stakes circuit with the exception of her Sweetheart elimination, which she won by 1-1/4 lengths over Podges Lady in a career-best 1:52.4, and the Sweetheart final.

“I’ve got to give the owners a lot of credit because they were never in too big a hurry to put her in the Grand Circuit stuff,” DiDomenico said. “I think she took kind of a similar road as See You At Peelers did last year. She was able to go in New York and kind of find herself a bit. We were able to kind of teach her how to race.”

Handsoffmycookie will face a talented field in the Breeders Crown, even with the absence of multiple-stakes-winner American Jewel, who suffered an injury earlier this month. Economy Terror, the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion and runner-up to American Jewel in the She’s A Great Lady Stakes, is the 6-5 morning line favorite.

Big Mcdeal, who handed American Jewel her only loss in nine races and equaled American Jewel’s world record of 1:50.2 for a 2-year-old filly pacer, is the 7-2 second choice.

“I’m not going to tell you (Handsoffmycookie) is going to run off and win, but she’s not going to embarrass herself,” DiDomenico said. “She’s for real. She’s a good horse. We’re expecting her to go really well up there.”

Originally from Illinois, DiDomenico has lived in New Jersey for seven years. He is a longtime friend of driver Tim Tetrick, another Illinois native, who has been behind Handsoffmycookie for seven of her starts. He will have the assignment again in the Breeders Crown.

“It’s nice to have him behind you with all this too,” DiDomenico said. “It’s been really special.”

DiDomenico, who turns 29 on Nov. 2, grew up around the races because his father, Richard, owned and trained horses in addition to having a railroad job.

“We’d go to the barn on the weekends and I really took a liking to it,” DiDomenico said. “I fell into doing a little bit of everything. I just watched and tried to learn things. I wanted to train horses since the time I was 16 or 17. It was just something for me.

“The last three years out here have been good. I never got into the yearlings too much because I never had the owners to get into that. Getting a horse like (Handsoffmycookie) opens everybody’s eyes up a little bit. It only takes one, and hopefully she’s the one.”

Fucci has had horses with DiDomenico for two years. The partnership began when Fucci turned to him for help with a struggling horse that DiDomenico previously trained.

“Unlike most people in the business, we don’t have anybody in our family that’s done this before,” Fucci said. “It’s just something I always wanted to do. Why? I don’t know. The horses have always intrigued me. After years of bugging my husband he finally gave in. He let me go for it.”

As for the filly’s name, Fucci said there was no particular significance, other than a love of cookies.

“We were just playing around with some names,” she said. “I had a bunch of different variations with the word ‘cookie’ and it just came to me. Everybody loves the name. Who doesn’t love cookies?”

Ken Weingartner

Harness Racing Communications

U.S. Trotting Association