Don’t get him started.
Like so many horsemen, trainer Deshawn Minor understandably can barely contain his enthusiasm when you mention the Hambletonian, especially with a prospect in one his stalls at Magical Acres in Chesterfield, NJ.
It’s time to dream again for Minor, who teamed up with his older brother Dewayne to finish sixth in the 2000 edition with New Jersey Sires Stakes champion Legendary Lover K. Dewayne also trained third-place finisher Wishing Stone in 2010.
Deshawn, 39, has the Hambletonian fire burning brightly with Smilin Eli, a very lightly-raced son of Muscles Yankee, who looks to make it two-for-two in the second leg of New Jersey Sires Stakes on Friday night at the Meadowlands.
With Tim Tetrick scheduled to drive, Smilin Eli drew post five in a $33,000 division, carded as race two.
In his career debut last week, Smilin Eli sat patiently in third, then rallied with a sharp :26.4 final quarter to capture his division in 1:54.4.
However, one start and one win does not make a champion nor a Hambletonian contender. It’s a long road to Saturday, August 3.
“He’s obviously a green horse, and you have to be skeptical about what the next few weeks are going to bring,” admitted Minor, a native of Detroit, Michigan. “I don’t want to guesstimate, but after speaking with Tim Tetrick, he believes this horse has the special kind of ability to climb that mountain. To trot a last quarter like that right out of the box is impressive. Tim has let the colt figure things out. He told me to just call him when we need him to drive this colt. I guess he also drank the Kool Aid!”
“The owner and breeder Nick Cimino [of Pompano Beach, FL] sent him up to me around the end of April,” explained Minor. “I’ve known Nick for about eight years. He’s been around and he’s a student of pedigrees. His dam Gerri’s Joy won the 2006 Merrie Annabelle. He mentioned this colt was coming along pretty good. Well, we’ve discovered he’s quite a fabulous horse. He has a lot of raw talent and he’s a pleasure to be around.”
Smilin Eli came into his first start off a pair of qualifiers at the Meadowlands, his latest was a 1:56 romp with a :28.3 final quarter.
“Tim said he was roaring through the bridle and ready to go a lot more, but he’s inexperienced,” noted Minor. “As a two-year-old he had some soreness, and was just a big, growthy colt. He was trained down to about 2:15 and was shut down. His knees were pretty wide open and it just wasn’t a good idea to continue with him.
“To me, being affiliated with the Perretti Farms, I got the chance to see Muscles Yankee [his sire] a lot,” observed Minor. “This colt has his bone structure. He’s a big, wide colt, and does everything right. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy and strong. At this point, I think we can actually make some money in the Hambletonian. I do believe we have a Hambletonian horse.”
With that lofty goal, the keys will be meticulous management, how the colt progresses and responds, plus a lot of racing luck.
“He’s staked up to everything, but our immediate plans are to just get him through the sires stakes final,” continued Minor. “I’d be happy if he came right back with the same kind of mile this week. You have to let the horse tell you what to do. We can’t throw him to wolves right away. Everybody will want to see him up against stakes company. We’ll aim for that, but you have to take it race-by-race in small steps and with the right combination. In four or five races we’ll see if that win last week was just a one-time thing. We’re really happy where he’s at, and we’re hoping the talent we see now continues to surface. We’ll just pick and choose our spots with the biggest thing on our list being the Hambletonian.
“We’ve been there with Legendary Lover K, and my brother, DeWayne was third with Wishing Stone, and we know it takes a lot of luck. DeWayne is on the same boat with me this time. All we can do is make sure the horse in the best physical shape and let him take it from there. This colt is absolutely a longshot, but it’s okay to dream. I mean, it’s the Hambletonian.”