Who are the harness racing horses in the 2023 Elitloppet? Here is a quick overview of the 16 starters, their background, strengths and weaknesses.
1. Best Ofdream Trio
Nad Al Sheba – Lory Trio (Scarlet Knight)
Trainer: Erik Killingmo
Driver: Kim Eriksson
Owner: Stall Toftner/Knut Kopperud, Norway
Breeder: Allevamento Trio/Floriana Gaibini, Italy
A paternal grandson of Windsong’s Legacy (Conway Hall), Best Ofdream Trio showed a lot of talent last year but was woefully inconsistent. He followed San Moteur (Panne de Moteur) all the way in a race in Sweden in last april, losing by half-a-length in 1:52f, and was fourth in the group 1-race Åby Stora Pris in August. In the Paralympiatravet final and Sundsvall Open Trot, both group 1 races he made breaks. He broke stride in a few other races, too, and trainer Killingmo admitted he was at a loss to explain the behavior.
The explanation was in the minor abcess under the horse’s chin. Veterinarians had strongly adviced against an operation, given the risk of damaging nerves, as long as the horse wasn’t in any discomfort. When the abcess started swellling this spring, though, they had no choice but to operate. What they found truly shocked everybody: pieces of wood that probably had been there since the horse was a yearling.
In his season debut two weeks ago he won in impressive fashion in 1:55.4f over a 1 5/16th mile race, and appeared a completely new trotter. At Solvalla they took notice and decided to gamble on the horse having overcome his previous problems. Best Ofdream Trio was the last horse to be invited to the big race. It’s unclear if he can leave fast enough to take advantage of his post position. He has both speed and strength and does not mind doing the work to do quite a bit himself.
2. Ultion Face
Joke Face – Croix d’Am (Love You)
Trainer: Adrian Kolgjini
Driver: Adrian Kolgjini
Owner: Whap Capital AB, Sweden
Breeder: Lutfi Kolgjini and Anna Svensson, Sweden
Ultion Face showed talent early by winning in 1:58.4f in his third start at two – a fast time for a Swedish two-year-old. While “talented” is a good description, over, “consistent” is not. Ultion Face has broke stride in 1/3 of his starts and has lost a lot of money that way. The horse is lightning fast and has the strength to match, but inconsistent performances caused some to be surprised he was invited.
Ultion Face impressed by narrowly losing to Hail Mary (Googoo Gaagaa) in the Meadow Road Trot earlier this month, trotting in 1:51.1f. That performance earned him an invite to the Elitlopp. Trainer and driver Adrian Kolgjini is not one for defensive tactics, so expect Ultion Face to be very visible in this race – if he can just stay trotting.
3. Mister Hercules
Trixton – Baghdad Dream (Yankee Glide)
Trainer: Daniel Reden
Driver: Santtu Raitala
Owner: Stall Zet, Sweden
Breeder: Ecurie Jean-Pierre Barjon, France
Mister Hercules was always one of the best horses in his crop at three and four, though he – like everybody else – played second fiddle to Calgary Games (Readly Express). He continued to mature last year at five and won the Gr.1 Seinäjoki Race in Finland in april. A spectacular win in Prins Daniels lopp on May 20th secured his invitation. Mister Hercules won the race in 1:52.1 after being third over and then parked outside, never seeing the rail.
He can jump offstride for no reason, though it’s relatively rare. Mister Hercules can leave quickly, but they usually opt to race him off cover. With a good post position, Finnish driver Santtu Raitala, filling in for Örjan Kihlström, may opt to go for the lead. Mister Hercules is a very good allround trotter, fast, strong and with an iron will.
4. Hail Mary
Googoo Gaagaa – Dreams (Victory Dream)
Trainer: Daniel Reden
Driver: Åke Svanstedt
Owner: Stall Mary AB, m fl, Sweden
Breeder: Jörgen Sjunnesson and Holger Gustavsson, Sweden
One of two sons of Googoo Gaagaa (Cam’s Rocket) in the race, Hail Mary’s maternal family includes one of the most impressive Elitlopp-winners in history as his dam Dreams (Victory Dream) is a sister to Moni Maker (Speedy Crown).
Already a star at three, Hail Mary went on to win the Swedish Derby and Breeders’ Crown at four. The big boy – Hail Mary is close to 17 hands – is an extremely strong finisher and can grind down most opponents even if parked outside the whole race. Was second in last year’s Elitlopp and appears to be in absolute top form going into this race.
Royal Dream – Caranca (Ready Cash)
Trainer: Philippe Allaire
Driver: Gabriele Gelormini
Owner: Philippe Allaire, France
Breeder: Jean-Pierre Guay and Philippe Allaire, France
A paternal grandson of Love You (Coktail Jet), Hohneck is one of the fastest French horses around. He’s only started in two mile-long races – the French usually race over distances between 1 1/2 and 2 miles – and won them both. Hohneck is very speedy and can leave quickly, but is also comfortable attacking off cover. He has never started on a 5/8th track and is the exciting dark horse in the field.
Defeated Etonnant (Timoko) in Caen two weeks ago and arrives in peak condition. Most French horses improves significantly on their record when they travel to Solvalla. Hohneck’s current record 1:51.3. If he handles the trip well and his form is the same, Hohneck can very well win the Elitlopp.
6. San Moteur
Panne de Moteur – Aung San Suu Kyi (Ready Cash)
Trainer: Björn Goop
Driver: Björn Goop
Owner: Stall Arvidssons AB, m fl, Sweden
Breeder: Håkan Arvidsson, m fl, Sweden
The pre-race favorite. A medium-sized horse who looks smallish on the track, but may just be the biggest of them all in terms of ability. San Moteur has been raced lightly so far in his career and has only started 22 times in four seasons. Rarely leaves quickly which can prove his undoing in a mile-long race, but has speed and strength in abundance. He can also be a little hot-headed at the start, and did break stride at the start of last year’s Oslo Grand Prix. Comes into the race with a four-race winning streak at the highest level, including two Gr.1-races.
7. Vivid Wise As
Yankee Glide – Temple Blue Chip (Cantab Hall)
Trainer: Alessandro Gocciadoro
Driver: Matthieu Abrivard
Owner: Scuderia Bivans SRL, Italy
Breeder: Scuderia Wise and Allevamento delle Serenissima, Italy
Born in Pennsylvania but imported to Italy with his dam as a foal, Vivid Wise As was a star from the first time he raced back in 2016. Has 33 wins, all against the tough competition and. Outside of France he’s been Europe’s best horse overall over the last five years. Has more speed than strength. Earlier in his career he could leave quickly, but hasn’t been asked to do so for a long time.
Has a good finish, but from this post position he risks ending up at the back of the field. Won two Gr.1-races in March and April, but failed to impress in the Lotteria final on May 1st, hence his form is a question mark.
8. Usain Töll
Googoo Gaagaa – Cotton Waste (Smok’n Lantern)
Trainer: Vitale Ciotola
Driver: Alexandre Abrivard
Owner: Scuderia Santese SRL, Italy
Breeder: Inge Carlsson and Robert Lindström, Sweden
Broke stride as the probably winner in the race Mister Hercules (Trixton) won in 1:52.1f and was invited to the Elitlopp anyway. The son of Googoo Gaagaa (Cam’s Rocket) can leave quite quickly, but that’s not going to do him any good here. He’s a strong and tough horse who consistently puts in good performances. Here he’ll have to do a lot himself and also have to rely on Lady Luck.
1. Don Fanucci Zet
Hard Livin – Kissed By The West (Western Terror)
42 starts: 23-7-5, 1:50.4f
Trainer: Daniel Reden
Driver: Örjan Kihlström
Owner: Stall Zet, Sweden
Breeder: Brixton Medical AB, Sweden
The winner of the 2021 edition is back to take another stab at Elitloppet. He was also favorite last year, but broke stride at the start in the final. The trotter has an oddball pedigree, as his dam is an unstarted pacer Reden bought in Lexington in 2012 as an experiment. That failed as Kissed By The West (Western Terror) refused to trot, but she got revenge with this son, her second foal.
Don Fanucci Zet is strong finisher, but some question marks surround his form as that strong finish was missing in his last start in Finlandia Ajo. The horse can leave quickly, but last year he broke stride when starting from the same post position in the final. Regardless, it’s far from certain he is fast enough to keep the lead anyway. Regardless of that, Don Fanucci Zet can beat anybody when firing on all cylinders.
2. Önas Prince
Chocolatier – Sobra (Pine Chip)
Trainer: Per Nordström
Driver: Per Nordström
Owner: Per Nordström AB, P Hansson and R Nilsson, Sweden
Breeder: Tomas Jonsson, Sweden
Back for revenge after making a break in the final last year, Önas Prince has won all three starts this year and is in terrifying form. Can leave very fast and rocketed to the lead from post seven in Denmark in his last start. Was a star at three and four, winning 12 out of 14 in his four-year-old season. Though he did well last year the horse needed the season to adjust to the highest level and after the winter break he has looked extremely good. Önas Prince has tremendous speed and is one of the candidates to win the final.
Dream Vacation – Abba Hall (Garland Lobell)
Trainer: Frode Hamre
Driver: Dexter Dunn
Owner: Global Glide AB, Sweden
Breeder: Per-Rune Pollestad and Ordin Larsen, Norway
Trainer Frode Hamre admitted he was unsure of the horse’s form prior to the Gr.1-race Finlandia Ajo on May 7th. After the race he was sure as Stoletheshow won easily in 1:53.3f despite being parked outside, and the performance earned him an invitation to the Elitlopp. He can open very quickly, but generally not as fast Önas Prince (Chocolatier).
A very good all-rounder, Stoletheshow has been at his best when he’s been one of the front two, and doesn’t like having to go around many horses. The biggest question mark is Dexter Dunn’s tactical choices. How will the master driver approach this race tactically?
Timoko – Migraine (Alligator)
Trainer: Richard Westerink
Driver: Anthony Barrier
Owner: Richard Westerink, France
Breeder: Christian Guy Vigier and Mireille Baro, France
One of the best horses in the world, the massive French steam locomotive known as Etonnant really isn’t that suited to a 5/8th track. Last year he struggled with the Solvalla turns and even broke stride shortly, yet recovered and won the race in spectacular fashion. He’s already proven that he’s good enough to go around the entire field and win.
There are a few question marks, most notably his third-place finish in his last start. Etonnant rarely loses a race the way he did in Caen two weeks ago. Was it a one-off or a sign of declining form? Trainer Westerink has stated he’s not worried. Post four is also far from ideal for Etonnant, but this sturdily built Frenchman might just be good enough to win even if he himself throws a monkey wrench into his path.
5. Vernissage Grif
Varenne – Dalia Grif (Park Avenue Joe)
Trainer: Alessandro Gocciadoro
Driver: Alessandro Gocciadoro
Owner: Gennaro Riccio, Italy
Breeder: Allevamento Il Grifone, Italy
Winner of the Lotteria, the biggest race in Italy, on May 1st, Alessandro Gocciadoro only decided to start in the Elitlopp after inspecting the Elitlopp detention barn and approving the changes made. Last year Vernissage Grif could see the other horses in the detention barn and spent all his energy before the race. Now Solvalla has changed it so the Italian chestnut can be completely separated and not see the other horses. Only of the most capable trotters in the field, Vernissage Grif has a lot from his sire, Varenne (Waikiki Beach), though the coat color and temperament are different. Because of his quirks, Vernissage Grif has struggled with consistency outside of his native Italy. In some Swedish starts he has been brilliant while other times he has been … well, not even close.
He won the Lotteria in a new Italian record and looks to be in terrifying form. Vernissage Grif has broken a lot of bettor’s hearts over the years with his inconsistency away from home, but if the latest changes causes the horse to be at his very best he is a potential winner Sunday. Like his famous daddy, Vernissage isn’t bothered by anything in the race and it wouldn’t affect him in the least if he’s parked outside the leader. Like his famous daddy, Vernissage handles two heats in one day really well. If the detention barn changes causes him to focus all his energy on the race, Vernissage Grif will be a very tough nut to crack.
6. Go On Boy
Password – Balginette (Hasting)
Trainer: Romain Derieux
Driver: Romain Derieux
Owner: Caroline Logier, France
Breeder: Jean-Pierre and Pierre-Emmanuel Mary, France
Romain Derieux won the Elitlopp with Dijon (Ganymede) in 2019, and is hoping for a repeat with Go On Boy this year. The two horses are very different, however. While Dijon pretty much always took the lead, Go On Boy is a slow starter who is very strong and tough as nails. He is fast but lacks that extraordinary top speed and would probably loose a dash to every other Elitlopp-horse. However, he wears them down if he’s close enough – but he’s sometimes too far behind to get there in time.
Back in 2021 he won a mile-long race against Vivid Wise As (Yankee Glide) by wearing him down over the long final stretch at the Enghien track. At that point he seemed to be on the cusp of being a star. Injuries limited him to only three starts this year before he’s started to look like his old self again this year. In his last start, in April, he finished second to Etonnant (Timoko) in the Prix de l’Atlantique.
It’s unclear if Go On Boy has a strong sub-1:52 mile in him, and that may just be required this year. However, if he makes it to the final, expect him to improve from the elimination.
7. Just Believe
Orlando Vici – Heaven’s Above (Like a Prayer)
Trainer: Jess Tubbs
Driver: Greg Sugars
Owner: Iona Trotter Syndicate, Australia
Breeder: Yabby Dam Farms, Australia
The Australian horse is a complete unknown in Europe.
8. Brother Bill
From Above SE – Clear As A Bell (Super Arnie)
Trainer: Timo Nurmos
Driver: Magnus A Djuse
Owner: Stallskriket Gävle – Easy, Sweden
Breeder: Menhammar Stuteri AB, Sweden
Another horse looking for revange after a disappointing result in last year’s Elitlopp. His invite last year garnered a lot of emotion as part-owner Peter Källberg was fighting cancer – and decided to put off radiation therapy so he could be present at Solvalla. For the record, he survived and recovered. The horse, a paternal grandson of Zoot Suit (Nevele Pride), impressed in his 2023 debut when narrowly losing the Meadow Road Trot to Hail Mary (Googoo Gaagaa).
A slow starter, Brother Bill always has a trademark strong finish: regardless of the tempo, Brother Bill has always got a little extra in the tank. Maybe it will be too tough to go around everybody, but if Brother Bill is close to the front-runner in the last turn he can beat anybody.
by Lisa Harkema, for Harnesslink
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